26-27 March 2024: Launch CoViNet

WHO has launched a new network for coronaviruses, CoViNet. The network aims to facilitate and coordinate global expertise and capacities for early and accurate detection, monitoring and assessment of SARS-CoV-2, MERS-CoV and novel coronaviruses of public health importance. CoViNet expands on the WHO COVID-19 reference laboratory network established during the early days of the pandemic. Initially, the lab network was focused on SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, but will now address a broader range of coronaviruses. CoViNet is a network of global laboratories with expertise in human, animal and environmental coronavirus surveillance. The network currently includes 36 laboratories from 21 countries in all 6 WHO regions. At the kick-off, RIVM met other laboratories to work on an action plan for 2024-2025 so that WHO Member States are better equipped for early detection, risk assessment, and response to coronavirus-related health challenges. Read the news item about the CoViNet launch.

27 to 29 February 2024: Three-day training on water safety planning and climate change

To foster knowledge exchange and professional development, RIVM, VEI and WaterWorX collaborated to deliver a dynamic three-day training workshop on water safety plans (WSPs) and climate change. Developed by the WHO, climate-resilient WSPs provide a simple, robust framework for water utilities to make climate resilience assessments and to plan for progressive adaptation to climate change and current challenges. It helps them to fulfil their work as water service providers. The workshop brought together water experts and practitioners advising and leading projects abroad. Participants were set on delving into the latest knowledge and methods shaping climate-resilient WSPs and one another’s experiences with implementing WSPs in international contexts. With a tailored agenda, attendees received a rich and informative spread of sessions covering the 10 steps of WSP and topics such as water quality monitoring, effects of climate change on water-borne diseases, and legislative and financing mechanisms. The workshop provided valuable insights and facilitated networking opportunities, fostering a vibrant community of practice across the Netherlands. 

Training on water safety planning and climate change

Harold van den Berg (RIVM) and Carolien Koopman (VEI) trained the participants using hands-on activities and interactive discussions to encourage attendees to collaborate, share ideas, and gain practical skills that can be applied directly to their work. There was also an informative field visit to EVIDES water company in South Holland, where participants could apply what they had learned about climate-resilient WSP to a real-world example of a drinking water treatment plant. 



5 – 7 July 2023: 7th Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health

The 7th MCEH in Budapest brings together health and environment ministers from the 53 countries of the WHO European Region and representatives from international, regional, and non-governmental and youth organisations. The focus is on addressing the health dimensions of the triple environmental crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental pollution. At the 7th MCEH side event Integrating the Environment into One Health, WHO CC director Ana Maria de Roda Husman (in photo) delivered a keynote speech on how the Netherlands has adopted the One Health approach to reduce antimicrobial resistance.

In the Netherlands, organisations collaborate closely to combat the threat of emerging zoonoses and antimicrobial resistance. A complex interplay between antibiotics, antibiotic-resistance genes and resistant bacteria occurs in the environment involving water, soil, air, plants, animals and humans. RIVM collaborates with Dutch medical health professionals, veterinarians and experts from other disciplines, such as entomology, food safety and environmental sciences. The use of antibiotics in the veterinary sector has been drastically reduced. In addition, we contribute to international collaboration and capacity building amongst others with UN United Nations  (United Nations ) organisations such as WHO and through the WHO Collaborating Centres and in the quadripartite group on Integrated Surveillance on Antimicrobial Use and Resistance. We actively conduct environmental surveillance for AMR in sewage to track circulation in the population. And we perform quantitative assessments to estimate the risk from exposure to AMR in the environment, for example, from bathing. This knowledge drives further prevention of environmental pollution from wastewater treatment plants.

March 2023: Second edition of the Water safety plan manual now available

The World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality (GDWQ) recommend a proactive and systematic approach to assessing and managing risks to ensure the safety of drinking water supplies. To support the implementation of Water Safety Planning (WSP), the Water safety plan manual has been updated to its second edition. Targeted at water suppliers and organisations supporting water safety planning programmes, the manual provides practical guidance for the implementation of WSP in accordance with the principles outlined in the GDWQ. The second edition has been enriched with over a decade of global experience with water safety planning since the first edition was published in 2009. This new edition also focuses on equity and climate change, with the aim of enhancing the resilience of drinking water services for all users.

Ana Maria de Roda Husman and Harold van den Berg, two members of staff from the WHO CC,  provided peer review, additional text, and insights based on their expertise in the field of WSP. The updated Water Safety Plan manual serves as a valuable resource for drinking-water suppliers seeking to implement effective risk management strategies to safeguard the safety of their water supplies. Water safety plan manual; Step-by-step risk management for drinking-water supplieris available for download. 

18 – 24 November 2022: World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (WAAW)

This global campaign is celebrated annually to improve awareness and understanding of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and encourage best practices among the public, One Health stakeholders and policymakers, who all play a critical role in reducing the further emergence and spread of AMR. For RIVM and our WHO CC, AMR is a core component of our work. The Collaborating Centre has extensive knowledge with respect to detection and typing of AMR bacteria, genes and residues in food and environmental matrices. In particular, WHO CC experts have contributed to important AMR products such as the WHO protocol for integrated One Health surveillance of antibiotic resistance: the Tricycle protocol, which was published in 2021. It represents a genuine One Health effort, as it enables comparing the prevalence of ESBL-producing E. coli in humans, animals and the environment between different countries.

This year, the theme of WAAW is “Preventing Antimicrobial Resistance Together.” The global AMR community calls on all sectors to encourage the careful use of antimicrobials and to strengthen preventive measures addressing AMR, working together collaboratively through a One Health approach.

The following actions can help reduce the need for antimicrobials and minimise the emergence of AMR:

  • strengthen infection prevention and control in health facilities, farms and food industry premises;
  • ensure access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene, and vaccines;
  •  implement best practices in food and agricultural production;
  •  minimise pollution and ensure proper waste and sanitation management.

19 November 2022: World Toilet Day

World Toilet Day 2022 focuses on the impact of the sanitation crisis on groundwater. Inadequate sanitation systems spread human waste into rivers, lakes and soil, polluting the water resources under our feet. However, this problem seems invisible because it happens underground and in the poorest and most marginalised communities. Groundwater is our most abundant source of freshwater. It supports drinking water supplies, sanitation systems, farming, industry and ecosystems. As climate change worsens and populations grow, groundwater becomes vital for our well-being, security and survival. Safely managed sanitation protects groundwater from human waste pollution. Sustainable Development Goal 6.2 is the world’s promise to ensure safe toilets for all by 2030. This means everyone has access to a toilet connected to a sanitation system that effectively removes and treats human waste. Unfortunately, we are seriously off track to ensure safe toilets for all by 2030. With only 8 years left, the world needs to work 4 times faster to meet our promise.

We must make the invisible visible. Through the WHO CC, RIVM contributes to progress on these targets. Most notably, the iWSSP project contributes to improved access to sanitation and also clean water in rural Serbia. Our team is also co-led with Bosnia & Herzegovina (BiH) under Work Area 5 of the Protocol on Water and Health (PoWH). Work Area 5 is focused on Safe and Efficient Management of Water Supply and Sanitation Systems and collaborates in other Work Areas of the PoWH: Work Area 2, Prevention and reduction of Water-related diseases; Work Area 4, Small water supplies and sanitation; and Work Area 7, Increasing resilience to climate change.

More information on major updates to WHO's technical offerings on sanitation

24- 28 October 2022: UNC Water and Health 2022 conference, North Carolina, USA

The WHO CC contributed to the UNC Water and Health conference hosted by the Water Institute in Chapel Hill North Carolina, USA during the week of 24-28 October. More than one thousand water and health professionals from around the world attended the conference. Policymakers, practitioners and researchers came together to review the evidence, interrogate the science and improve old and develop new approaches to expand drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) access and services globally.

Two staff members from RIVM participated in this important conference to engage with global stakeholders on critical and emerging WaSH issues. Jerome Lock-Wah-Hoon presented ongoing work on environmental surveillance for pathogens that are important for public health and Jesse Limaheluw presented work on the impact of climate change on waterborne infections. Both talks were well attended and stimulated thoughtful discussion among attendees.

The 2022 Conference was held in an in-person format after two years of virtual conferences. Several RIVM partners and collaborating partners, including staff from WHO, were in attendance. Jerome reported that the conference “provided a good opportunity for us to interact in-person with sister institutions and the WHO teams to discuss topics from water quality, risk assessment methodology, guideline development and future priorities. Participants who attended were all committed to improving public health by achieving universal access to WaSH services that are safe, affordable and sustainable”.

Representatives from many countries that the WHO CC had worked with were also present and shared the current state of WASH, new innovations, and future plans from their national and sub-national settings. During the conference, new reports were endorsed including the Sanitation Policy Brief that the WHO CC contributed to, and a new report on the state of the world’s drinking water.

More information about the annual Water and Health conference and recordings of all sessions.

October 2022: Article on the Occurrence of waterborne pathogens and antibiotic resistance in Mozambique published

Harold van den Berg of the WHO CC and colleagues from Mozambique, Italy and the Netherlands are happy to announce the publication of their recent manuscript on Microbiological quality of drinking water supplied in Moamba, a small town in southern Mozambique.

The team collected and analysed over 90 water samples from various sources for the presence of a series of bacterial pathogens. They found that contamination was evident in many types of water samples indicating the presence of faecal contamination and resistant pathogens in the water treatment system and household taps in Moamba. This implies a health risk for the population.

More information

Taviani, E., van den Berg, H., Nhassengo, F. et al. Occurrence of waterborne pathogens and antibiotic resistance in water supply systems in a small town in Mozambique. BMC Microbiol 22, 243 (2022).

September 2022: Re-designation WHO Collaborating Centre for Risk Assessment of Pathogens in Food and Water

In 2022, RIVM’s WHO Collaborating Centre for Risk assessment of Pathogens in Food and Water (WHO CC-NET 42) has been undergoing the re-designation process by the WHO.

We are delighted to announce that WHO CC-NET 42 is now officially re-designated as a WHO collaborating centre to support the WHO in its programmes for the next four-year period. 

The main role of a WHO collaborating centre is to provide strategic support to the WHO with the purpose of meeting two main needs:

  • Implementing WHO's mandated work and programme objectives
  • Developing and strengthening institutional capacity in countries and regions

Re-designation allows RIVM to maintain its role in carrying out activities as a member of WHO’s international collaborative network. This network supports WHO programmes at the country, intercountry, regional, interregional, and global levels through technical cooperation strategies.

“Re-designation means we are able to continue our efforts to aid other countries. Through the WHO, we learn about requests that come from other countries and are aware of the right questions. This, in turn, focuses on our development of tools and the implementation of those tools. Moreover, our redesignation aligns with the strategic priorities of RIVM, bringing local knowledge to international, and RIVM at the heart of society”, said Ana Maria de Roda Husman, WHO-CC-NET 42 focal point.

The work and contribution of our WHO CC to microbial food and water safety worldwide are made possible by the RIVM Department of Environmental Microbiology. This department consists of experts in the fields of water, food, and antimicrobial resistance. The WHO CC relies on this expertise to provide successful collaboration in line with the centre's terms of reference and work plans, which are validated and agreed upon together with the WHO.

May 2022: 13th meeting of the Working Group on Water and Health

The thirteenth meeting of the Working Group on Water and Health, under the Protocol of Water and health, took place in Geneva on 19 and 20 May.  More than 100 participants were present from across the European region, including three RIVM experts: Ana Maria de Roda Husman, Harold van den Berg and Jerome Lock-Wah-Hoon. The Working Group on Water and Health is an open-ended subsidiary body responsible for the overall implementation of the Protocol’s work programme.

The joint secretariat of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and WHO regional office for Europe (WHO Euro) organised and chaired the meeting. Decisions were made on priority areas for implementing the programme of work 2020–2022 and the upcoming programme of work for 2023–2025. The Working Group also made preparations for the upcoming Meeting of the Parties that will take place in November 2022 and also deliberated on how to raise resources for implementing the programme of work.

A special thematic discussion session on “the Protocol on Water and Health and increasing resilience to climate change” was held on Thursday, 19 May in the afternoon. The joint secretariat invited Ana Maria de Roda Husman to moderate this session. She guided the dialogue on how to use the platform and tools provided by the Protocol to increase resilience to climate change. Moreover, Harold van den Berg provided interventions on the work performed by RIVM in the sessions on “Small-scale water supplies and sanitation” and “Safe and efficient management of water supply and sanitation systems”. More information about the 13th meeting, including presentations and supporting documents, can be found on the UNECE website.   

April 2022: WHO publishes two documents on surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that wastewater surveillance for a new pathogen can be set up relatively quickly. On 19 April 2022, the WHO published the document Wastewater surveillance of SARS-CoV-2: questions and answers (‎Q&A)‎ for a general audience and an Interim Guidance Environmental surveillance for SARS-COV-2 to complement public health surveillance targeted at public health officials who want to understand and integrate complementary environmental surveillance into COVID-19 control strategies. Both of these documents relied upon the technical contributions of experts from the WHO CC.

The Q&As aim to provide a first point of access to knowledge and information around wastewater surveillance of SARS-CoV-2. The WHO CC took the lead in the preparation of this document following a request by the WHO Regional Office for Europe to develop a document of this type. The Interim Guidance led by WHO headquarters updates the scientific brief Status of environmental surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 virus: scientific brief, 5 August 2020. The guidance provides advice on situations where environmental surveillance can add value to public health decision making, requirements to plan and coordinate an effective programme, and how to carry out data collection and communication of results. Experts of the WHO CC were selected to join the external review group of the interim guidance. The two documents (Q&A and interim guidance) complement each other in representing globally relevant advice for a varied audience on:

  • Why, or in what situations, does environmental surveillance add value to public health decision making at different stages of the pandemic, and in different settings and contexts.
  • What are the minimum requirements for planning and coordinating an effective SARS-COV-2 environmental surveillance programme in different resource settings?
  • How should data collection, analysis and interpretation and communication of results be carried out?

Jerome Lock-Wah-Hoon, Harold van den Berg, Joris Sprokholt, and Ana Maria de Roda Husman collaborated with the WHO Regional Office for Europe and WHO's headquarters team in the development of these documents.

March 2022: Updated Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality now available to mark World Water Day

Today is World Water Day, a celebration for water with a focus on the importance of groundwater. It raises awareness of the 2 billion people living without access to safe water, advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources worldwide.

To mark World Water Day 2022, the WHO announces the updated Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality (GDWQ): 4th edition, incorporating the 1st and 2nd addenda is published. Key updates include new and revised sections on potable reuse, climate change, emergencies, and food production and processing. Also, fact sheets on chemicals and cyanobacteria were updated, and for this year updates on microbial fact sheets are planned for the next edition.

 The GDWQ builds on over 60 years of guidance by the WHO on drinking water quality, which has formed an authoritative basis for the setting of national regulations and standards for water safety in support of public health. More information on the updates is available in the  Guidelines on recreational water quality The preparation of the 4th edition and new updates to the guidance have covered a period of more than 10 years and involved the participation of hundreds of experts from a wide range of developing and developed countries. The WHO CC has contributed by providing scientific and technical expertise on hazard identification and risk management.