“Water, sanitation and hygiene services in health facilities are the most basic requirement of infection prevention and control, and quality of care. They are fundamental to respecting the dignity and human rights of every person who seeks health care and of health workers themselves. I call on people everywhere to support action for WASH in all health care facilities. This is essential to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals” – Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General
When was the last time you questioned whether your doctor was able to wash their hands before treating you? Or worried that receiving treatment would leave you sicker? For far too many people, seeking health services can be a risky endeavor. Whether someone is giving birth, or needs a routine or lifesaving procedure, certain foundational facility standards are needed to protect the patient, their families, healthcare workers, and communities. Access to safe water, clean toilets, and soap is a prerequisite for safe, quality healthcare. Unfortunately, these necessities are often not available, which has serious consequences.
The statistics are staggering. 1 in 4 healthcare facilities lacks basic water services, and 1 in 5 has no sanitation services. These inadequate WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) conditions affect 2 billion and 1.5 billion people, respectively. The results of these substandard conditions are heartbreaking and avoidable. 17 million women a year give birth in these conditions, resulting in 1 million deaths associated with unclean deliveries. Three babies die every 5 minutes in Sub-Saharan Africa or Southern Asia from highly preventable causes such as diarrhea, sepsis, meningitis, and tetanus, all of which are strongly linked to unhygienic conditions. Mothers and newborns are not the only ones affected by poor WASH conditions. 15% of all patients in low- and middle-income countries develop at least one infection during their stay. These conditions also aid the spread of antimicrobial resistance, which has a much broader reach, well beyond any one country.
We are starting to see important progress. The 2015 Sustainable Development Goals emphasize universal health coverage, with WASH in general being instrumental in realizing that goal. In 2018, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made a Global Call to Action establishing sustainable WASH specifically in healthcare facilities as a global priority, as WASH services are at the frontline of preventing the spread of disease. Through systemic change and by integrating WASH into existing health initiatives, the goal of 100 percent of facilities having basic WASH services by 2030 is attainable. The World Health Organization and UNICEF recently outlined 8 key steps to establish and maintain basic WASH systems in every community. Read WHO/UNICEF (2019) WASH in health care facilities: Practical steps for universal access to quality care for more information on these 8 steps and examples of countries using them.
The light at the end of the tunnel is that this issue is solvable, but only with additional support at all levels. An historic next step will take place on June 19th, 2019 to generate that kind of support and foster collaboration among water, health, finance and public/private sectors. Global Water 2020 and Global Health Council are hosting a Stakeholder Commitments Gathering in Washington DC where dozens of commitments will be publicly announced. Due to the multifaceted nature of this problem and its solutions, support will come in various forms including, but not limited to, financial contributions, in-kind services and expertise such as advocacy, training, and technical guidance, project monitoring and evaluation, and donations of products and services.
Secure your spot at the June 19th, 2019 event to learn more and see how you can be part of historic progress in global health.