The public health community has tried for decades to show, through evidence-based research, that safe water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) and clean cooking fuels that reduce household air pollution are essential to safeguard health and save lives in low-income and middle-income countries. In the past 40 decades, there have been many innovations in the development of low-cost and efficacious technologies for WASH and household air pollution, but many of these technologies have been associated with disappointing health outcomes, often because low-income households have either not adopted, or inconsistently adopted, these technologies. In this Viewpoint, we argue that public health researchers (ourselves included) have had an oversimplified understanding of poverty; our work has not focused on insights into the lived experience of poverty, with its uncertainties, stresses from constant scarcity, and attendant fears. Such insights are central to understanding why technologies for safe water or clean cooking are unused by so many households that could benefit from them. We argue that, rather than improved versions of household-scale delivery models, transformative investments in safe water and clean cooking for all require utility-scale service models. Until then, research should focus on interim safe water and clean cooking options that are directed towards the utility-scale service model.
The Lancet Global Health, Volume 9, March 2021,