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Friday, March 31, 2023

Global Handwashing Day: Group seeks action to improve hygiene, healthcare facilities

WaterAid Nigeria has renewed its call for improvements to water, sanitation and hygiene in schools as well as healthcare facilities in the country.


According to the organisation, one-in-three schools around the world do not have regular access to water, basic private toilets, or a way to wash hands with soap and an estimated 443 million school days are lost every year because of water-related illnesses.

It adds that as many as 50% of schools in sub-Saharan Africa are without access to water, pointing out that access to water, sanitation and hygiene at school is also a matter of gender equality, as girls are more likely to miss lessons or to drop out completely once they start menstruating if their school does not have a decent toilet where they can change menstrual cloths in dignity and privacy. One in 10 adolescent girls in Africa miss school during their menstruation and eventually drop out due to a lack of gender-friendly toilet facilities.

WaterAid adds that some 38% of hospitals and clinics in low- and middle-income countries around the world do not have regular access to water, and that 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. In Nigeria, almost a third (29%) 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 (16%) do not have anywhere to wash hands with soap, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) report ‘ Water, sanitation and hygiene in health care facilities: status in low and middle income countries and way forward’.

“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.”

The organisation stresses that a lack of water and sanitation, combined with poor hygiene, also contributes to the overuse and misuse of antibiotics as, according to it, 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 Halidou Koanda, said: “Clean, plentiful water, good sanitation and good hygiene including handwashing with soap are absolutely essential to effective healthcare, wherever you are in the world. 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. This Global Handwashing Day, we are calling on governments and donors to take action on this injustice, and on health professionals to join our call to action.

“Good hygiene, and in particular handwashing with soap, have significant impact on the health and wellbeing of the global population. It was one of the ways in which Nigeria fought and won against the deadly Ebola virus; and even though Nigeria is Ebola free now, other diseases such as monkey pox and cholera are threatening public health in the country. These diseases can spread further and faster without sanitation and hygiene practices to block their path and an outbreak in one area can quickly become a city-wide, national or international epidemic.”

Handwashing with soap is also critical for maximising the health benefits of investments in water supply and sanitation infrastructure and combating many health risks, WaterAid contends, adding that 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.

“It is important that we promote long-term behaviour change throughout the year and as a crucial part of everyday life beyond just Global Handwashing Day and WaterAid is supporting the Federal Ministry of Water Resources’ year-long hygiene promotion campaign being spearheaded by the National Task Group on Sanitation and aimed at integrating WASH in education and health for improved and holistic outcomes in these areas.

“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.

“The WHO Action Plan aims to provide these essential services everywhere by 2030, but requires political prioritisation and financing to succeed.”

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