In a bid to save lives and improve the quality of life for millions of people in the world, Japanese companies have worked over the years to improve poor sanitation in developing countries.

A recent report by the World Health Organization and UNICEF estimated that 2.4 billion people are still without sanitation facilities in 2015, including 946 million — about one in eight of the world’s population — who defecate in the open. In particular, the report warned that the lack of progress on sanitation threatens to severely undermine the survival of children.

According to UNICEF, children under five years old suffer 1.7 billion cases of diarrhea every year and about 300,000 of those — more than 800 per day — die from diarrheal diseases linked to inadequate sanitation, hygiene and water.

In addressing such a pressing issue, Lixil Group Corp. (www.lixil.com), Japan’s largest housing fixture maker, has committed to providing improved access to toilets in developing communities.

The firm believes such efforts could reduce the threat of illness and advance hygienic living, saving children’s lives, as well as offering safe access for women and girls, who could be at risk when they leave their homes to use the toilet.

A strategy announced by Lixil in March addresses the issue of global hygiene and sanitation, with the company stating it hopes to, “Promote and enable access to safe and hygienic sanitation practices, especially for women and girls, while preventing the harmful transmission of diseases among children.”

“As a global citizen, we are more engaged in global social issues today than ever before, and recognize the need to embrace our role as a problem solver where our global network, expertise and experience can make a difference,” Kinya Seto, Lixil’s COO said when announcing the firm’s strategy.

To that end, Lixil has set out a lofty goal, with plans to provide improved access to sanitation and better hygiene for 100 million people by 2020. The effort utilizes the SaTo (Safe Toilet) pan invented by American Standard in 2013, a U.S. subsidiary of the firm.

The SaTo was created to contribute in reducing disease transmission and improving sanitation facilities in Bangladesh.

Featuring water seals with a trapdoor mechanism to shut off pit latrines from the open air, the simply designed SaTo works to ward off flying insects from scattering pathogens through contact with human excrement.

More than 810,000 SaTo are already in use across the globe, greatly improving the quality of life for over four million people, according to Lixil.

For inventing the hygienic SaTo pan technology, American Standard received the Patents for Humanity award last year from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Launched in 2012, the Patents for Humanity program recognizes those who use innovative technology to address global humanitarian challenges.

Another Japanese company is working to improve the hygienic environment of hospitals in Africa to prevent health care associated infections or hospital-acquired infections that can lead to death. In addition to the human cost, these infections could place serious financial burdens on health systems.

WHO statistics showed 10 percent of hospitalized patients at any given time in developing countries will acquire at least one health care associated infection.

Saraya Co., a maker of hygiene products such as soap and detergent, started a program dubbed the Wash a Million Hands Project in Uganda in 2010, aiming to save lives lost due to poor hygiene by boosting hand-washing access and education for children and mothers.

Through the project, the firm said they realized medical facilities also need support to create more hygienic environments. It prompted them to establish the 100% Hospital Hand Hygiene Project in 2013 in the eastern African country that encourages the use of alcohol hand sanitizers at Uganda’s hospitals and clinics.

In 2014, Saraya started producing alcohol hand disinfectant at a factory in Uganda operated by its subsidiary Saraya East Africa Co., aiming to supply the product at affordable prices for local medical facilities while maintaining Japanese quality and know-how, the firm said.

Saraya hopes to spread the prevention effort to medical institutions in other countries in East Africa.

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