In Nigeria, almost a third of hospitals and clinics in the country do not have access to clean water; the same percentage do not have safe toilets and one-in-six do not have anywhere to wash hands with soap. This puts some of the most vulnerable members of society – mothers and their newborns – at unacceptable risk of infection and death.
As the world commemorates International Women’s Day, WaterAid Nigeria calls on all stakeholders in the health sector to accelerate progress towards ensuring improved access to water, sanitation and hygiene in health care facilities. The assumption that water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is beyond the remit of the health sector is a costly perception which hinders progress in reducing maternal and child deaths.
It has been shown that a baby’s chances of dying in the first month of life is cut by half if a mother and her birth attendant both wash their hands before handling the baby. Tragically for one in five babies who die in their first month in the developing world, just being washed in clean water and cared for in a clean environment by people who had washed their hands could have prevented their untimely deaths. The ability to keep a hospital or clinic clean is such a fundamental basic requirement of health care that we must question whether a facility without clean running water or basic sanitation can adequately serve its patients.
Women and girls, who make up more than half the world’s population, are often more deeply impacted than men and boys by a lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene.
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day, #PressforProgress, calls on people to keep motivated in the now strong global momentum of advocacy, activism and support striving for gender equality. We need to push for the consideration and inclusion of women in all spheres of society and development.
Dr ChiChi Aniagolu-Okoye, Country Director of WaterAid Nigeria, said: “Dirty water, poor sanitation and poor hygiene including lack of handwashing facilities with soap is primarily a women’s issue, impacting the health and well-being of women and girls more than men. It is causing a crisis of massive proportion in health that simply cannot continue and which needs addressing at the highest levels. Clean, plentiful water, good sanitation and good hygiene including handwashing with soap are absolutely essential to effective health care.
“At WaterAid, our work is all about transforming lives by improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene and women and girls bear the brunt of the burden caused by a lack of access to these basic and life-saving services.
“The world’s leaders promised to eradicate extreme poverty and leave no one behind in the Global Goals on Sustainable Development. We must keep pressing for progress for women. That means ensuring, amongst other things, that women have access to adequate facilities in health care centres. Ensuring we make progress for women and girls in this area will ultimately lead to healthier women and families, who have a better chance of working their way out of extreme poverty.”
A lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene also has implications beyond health. The lack of these essential services creates a massive crisis for developing countries like Nigeria – undermining not just health systems but education, economic development, and progress on gender equality. All sustainable development is made impossible without clean water and access to sanitation and hygiene facilities.
On the International Women’s Day 2018, WaterAid Nigeria is calling for:
- The Nigerian Government to ensure that healthcare facilities and birthing centres have safe toilets, clean running water and functional handwashing facilities, to reduce maternal, newborn and child deaths
- Water, sanitation and hygiene to be positioned as a crucial contributor to health and for policy makers and health sector stakeholders to become aware of the link and crucial role that sanitation plays in improving child survival rates and health outcomes
- The inclusion of water, sanitation and hygiene into health plans, policies and programming
- Our leaders to fund, implement and account for progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and particularly Goal 6 – to ensure water, sanitation and hygiene for all
- An improvement in access to water and sanitation with political prioritisation and long-term increases in financing for water, sanitation and hygiene, by Government at all levels.