Incontinence and WASH

Focusing on people in humanitarian and low- and middle-income contexts


Incontinence is the involuntary loss of urine and/or faeces

People of any gender, age or ability can experience incontinence: they cannot hold on to their urine and/or faeces (‘the involuntary loss of urine or faeces’), and need to manage their urine and/or faeces leaking out. Leakage can occur at any time, day or night (commonly referred to in children as ‘bedwetting’). Incontinence has a significant impact on the quality of life of those who experience it, and that of their family members and carers:

“The children (in Zaatari refugee camp, Jordon) are really suffering. The problem is that the mothers have been trying to cope for so long that basically they’ve given up. Night after night of urine and they can’t keep them clean. It’s soul-destroying (Venema, 2015)”

Members of an informal email group on incontinence in humanitarian and development settings* have identified a lack of acknowledgement and support for people with incontinence. In response the group has been developing tools and collating resources to enable development and humanitarian professionals to create a supportive environment for people in low- and middle-income countries to manage their incontinence hygienically, safely, in privacy and with dignity.

We have identified that anyone who experiences incontinence has increased water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) needs compared to the rest of the population. WASH-related tools and resources have been collated on this webpage to help improve the knowledge and practices of the WASH sector. New resources will be added when available. This guidance can be summarised as:

For more information, please see:

*Please note that these documents will be regularly updated as more information becomes available.


Key contacts championing increasing learning on incontinence in humanitarian and LMICs

At the University of Leeds:

Dr Dani Barrington, Lecturer in Water, Sanitation and Health

Dr Pete Culmer, Associate Professor, School of Mechanical Engineering. Pete is also a member of the IMPRESS initiative of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Surgical MedTech Cooperative which aims to encourage more engineers and scientists to work on researching new technologies for incontinence.

Professor Barbara Evans, Professor of Public Health Engineering

Claire Rosato-Scott PhD Candidate, Emergency sanitation for children aged 5 to 11 with urinary incontinence


External to the University of Leeds:

Dr Amita Bhakta (Freelance consultant on water, sanitation and hygiene) and on Twitter

Larissa Burke (Disability Inclusion Advisor at CBM Australia)

Chelsea Giles-Hansen (Public health and WASH Consultant)

Dr Sarah House (Freelance public health / water, sanitation and hygiene engineer)

Jane Wilbur, Research Fellow Disability, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

*If you have any questions or comments about anything on this page, incontinence in general, or if you would like to join the informal email group on incontinence in humanitarian and development settings, please contact



For other incontinence research being conducted at University of Leeds, check out:

Breaking the silence on incontinence

Technology for incontinence hasn’t developed that much since ancient Egyptian times on The Conversation

Incontinence affects more than 200m people worldwide, so why isn’t more being done to find a cure? on The Conversation

Talking to women about urinary incontinence on the BMJ Blog