Expectations have risen over the government’s ambitious Swachh Bharat Abhiyan after Prime Minister Narendra Modi received the ‘Global Goalkeeper’ Award by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on Tuesday in New York. The award ceremony took place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York.

Modi dedicated the award for the sanitation scheme to those Indians who had transformed the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan into a mass movement and made it a part of their daily lives. “The success of the Swachh Bharat Mission is due to the people of India. They made this their own movement and ensured the desired results were attained," he said after receiving the award.

Terming it a significant moment for him to receive the award on the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, Modi said Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is proof that when 1.3 billion Indians take a pledge, any challenge can be overcome.

“India is making remarkable progress in fulfilling Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of a Swachh Bharat. In the last five years, a record of more than 11 crore (110 million) toilets was constructed. This mission has benefitted the poor and women of the country the most. In addition to improving sanitation and health, building of 11 crore (110 million) toilets has also boosted economic activity in villages," he said.

Talking about improving global sanitation coverage, Modi said that India is ready to share its expertise and experiences with other nations, so that there can be a collective effort to increase sanitation coverage. He spoke about India’s efforts in preventive healthcare through mission mode movements like Fit India Movement and Jal Jeevan Mission. Public health experts have said that India will need to keep up the success of the scheme as it is helping make the country healthy.

“The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has been instrumental in saving over 300,000 lives from protein-energy malnutrition and diarrhoea related deaths in the last five years. Unsafe sanitation was responsible for almost 200 million cases of diarrhoea every year before the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was launched in 2014. These have steadily decreased over the years and we are close to achieving full elimination with universal use of safe sanitation facilities. The movement has also been successful in avoiding over 14 million disability-adjusted life years over the last five years," said Rajesh Ranjan Singh, COO, Wadhwani Institute for Sustainable Healthcare.

The problem of open defecation was long recognized as a sanitation concern in India. However, it is the first time that a government has initiated such a concerted effort to eliminate this problem. Improvement in sanitation services, drinking water supply, waste management and personal hygiene are crucial to reducing the incidence of both vector-borne and water-borne diseases, he said.

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