Incontinence: We Need to Talk About Leaks

Frontiers of Sanitation 16
October 2020

Anyone, of any gender, at any age, can leak urine or faeces. What would you do if it happened to you? What can you do to support people living with incontinence? To start, we need to talk about leaks.

Incontinence is the involuntary leakage of urine or faeces. It is a global health, protection and social care challenge that has a significant impact on the quality of life of people that experience the condition, and those who care for people that do. The water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector can help provide support for people who live with incontinence to be able to live with dignity, but first we need to learn about the challenges people living with incontinence may be facing: we need to talk about leaks.

This issue of Frontiers of Sanitation aims to provide the WASH sector with:

  • A basic introduction to incontinence and the realities that people living with incontinence face;
  • Practical suggestions for how to identify and engage with people living with incontinence to start ‘talking about leaks’; and
  • Practical suggestions for the WASH sector (and others) to contribute to reducing inequalities associated with incontinence.

This guide primarily draws on the knowledge and experience of an informal group of international professionals interested in incontinence in both humanitarian and development contexts in LMICs, which the authors have represented to the best of their ability. It relies heavily on emergent research and a relatively small number of case studies on incontinence in LMICs that have been collected to date, and it is hoped that this resource will act as an advocacy tool to push the WASH sector to do more learning and research on this topic.

This practical guide is accompanied by a list of learning and research priorities has been provided (p39), along with a checklist on how to talk about incontinence.

Additional details

PublisherInstitute of Development Studies
CountryGhana, India, Pakistan, Uganda
ThemesBehaviour change, Children, Disability, Gender, Health, Hygiene, Incontinence, Leave no one behind, Menopause and perimenopause, Older people, Sanitation and health impacts, Social norms

Rosato-Scott, C., Barrington, D. J., Bhakta, A., House, S. J., Mactaggart, I. and Wilbur, J. (2020) ‘Incontinence: We Need to Talk About Leaks’, Frontiers of Sanitation: Innovations and Insights 16, Brighton: IDS, DOI: 10.19088/SLH.2020.005


Share this resource

Learn more about SLH Research

We use a range of research approaches, which aim to draw attention to urgent knowledge gaps, blind spots and emerging questions, often at a critical point in time, to support policy-makers, practitioners and partners in navigating and responding swiftly.

SLH Research and Learning