WaterAid on Friday in Abuja launched a new campaign for health professionals, calling on them to take action to call for improvements to water, sanitation and hygiene in hospitals around the world.
Some 38% of clinics in low- and middle-income countries around the world do not have regular access to water; even more do not have basic, private toilets and a way to wash hands with soap. In sub-Saharan Africa, some 42% of healthcare facilities do not have access to water.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) report titled: “Water, sanitation and hygiene in health care facilities: status in low and middle income countries and way forward”, almost a third (29%) of hospitals and clinics in Nigeria do not have access to clean water and the same percentage do not have safe toilets. The report also shows that one in six (16%) do not have anywhere to wash hands with soap.
This puts patients and healthcare workers at unacceptable risk of infection, including some of the most vulnerable members of society – new mothers and their newborns. One in five deaths of newborn babies in the developing world are caused by infections with a strong link to dirty water, poor sanitation and unhygienic conditions and Nigeria has one of the largest numbers of neonatal deaths worldwide.
A lack of water and sanitation, combined with poor hygiene, also contributes to the overuse and misuse of antibiotics as they are used to stand in for soap and water in infection prevention, resulting in higher levels of anti-microbial resistance.
WaterAid Nigeria Country Director, Dr. Michael Ojo, said: “Clean, plentiful water, good sanitation and good hygiene including handwashing with soap are absolutely essential to effective healthcare. Yet almost a third of hospitals and clinics in Nigeria are without even rudimentary access to water. It is unacceptable that patients and medical workers are exposed to such risk of infection.
“The ability to keep a hospital or clinic clean is such a fundamental basic requirement of health care and within the Sustainable Development Goal 6 commitment to ensuring everyone has access to safewater, sanitation and hygiene by 2030, we want to see healthcare facilities prioritised – no new hospitals or clinics should be built without water and sanitation.
“There must be individual and collective responsibility for ensuring hygienic conditions in health centres. We need everyone involved in leading and shaping health services to work together to ensure that the most vulnerable members of society are protected.”
Hygiene, and in particular handwashing, are frequently overlooked, and yet they make a huge difference to the health and wellbeing of the global population. Out of all water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) interventions, hygiene promotion has proven to be particularly effective in reducing mortality and morbidity from child diarrhoea, and has been identified as the most cost-effective disease control intervention.
Handwashing is also critical for maximising the health benefits of investments in water supply and sanitation infrastructure and combating many health risks. As the next World Health Assembly approaches in May 2017, WaterAid is calling for more political priority and more funding to be devoted to this critical building block for health to ensure no health centre is forced to make do without, and we are pleased to see health professionals from around the world joining our call.
The 2016 Global Handwashing Day is part of WaterAid’s “Healthy Start” campaign as well as its efforts to promote hygiene and integrate WASH and health. The group is carrying out stakeholders’ validation workshops in six focal states to present findings from its assessment of WASH facilities in primary health care centres in selected LGAs across these six states.
“We will share and verify findings from this recent research, review the recommendations with stakeholders, and jointly develop action plans for ways forward to address the issues raised. This forum presents us with an opportunity to highlight the WASH status of primary health centres and the vital role health workers play in improving maternal and child health outcomes. The full report from this assessment, which will be available in the very near future, will then inform how we go forward to practically address these issues,” the group stated.
Through the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development, world leaders have promised to ensure everyone everywhere has access to safe water and sanitation by 2030. To keep that promise, ensuring water, sanitation and hygiene at every level of health services must be a priority, adds WaterAid.
The WHO Action Plan aims to provide these essential services everywhere by 2030, but requires political prioritisation and financing to succeed.