One in four health facilities globally lacks basic water services – WHO

A Hospital ward with health workers used to illustrate the story
A Hospital ward with health workers used to illustrate the story

One in four healthcare facilities around the world lack basic water services, therefore, aiding the spread of infections and antimicrobial resistance, the World Health Organisation has said.

A new report by WHO and UNICEF’s Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (JMP) said the lack of water in these facilities are negatively impacting over two billion people.

The WHO/UNICEF JMP report, WASH in Health Care Facilities, is the first comprehensive global assessment of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in healthcare facilities.

A press statement released by WHO on Wednesday based on the report found that one in five health care facilities has no sanitation service, impacting 1.5 billion people.

The report further reveals that many health centres lack basic facilities for hand hygiene and safe segregation and disposal of waste.

“These services are crucial to preventing infections, reducing the spread of antimicrobial resistance and providing quality care, particularly for safe childbirth,” WHO said.

Nigeria indicted

Unfortunately, Nigeria is one of the countries contributing to these statistics.

Most health facilities in the country especially the Primary Health Care (PHCs) do not have dependable water sources. Some secondary and tertiary health facilities are also not left out.

A 2016 report titled, ‘Water, sanitation and hygiene in health care facilities: status in low and middle-income countries and way forward’, by WHO shows that 38 per cent of Nigerian health facilities do not have water source, 19 do not have improved sanitation, and 35 per cent do not have water and soap for hand-washing.

This lack of services compromises the ability to provide basic, routine services such as child delivery and the ability to prevent and control infections.

Lamenting the lack of water and sanitation in the country, the founder of Wellbeing Foundation Africa (WBFA), Toyin Saraki, last year during the World Hand Hygiene Day said about 29 per cent of healthcare facilities across Nigeria have no access to safe water and toilets.

Mrs Saraki who was quoting a WHO report said a WaterAid survey in the country also revealed that half of the primary health facilities do not have handwashing facilities in delivery rooms.

The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres also said water, sanitation and hygiene services in health facilities are the most basic requirements of infection prevention and control, and quality care.

Worrisome statistics

The WHO/UNICEF JMP report also found that just about half – 55 per cent – of health care facilities in the least developed countries (LDCs) had basic water services.

It is estimated that one in five births globally takes place in LDCs, and that, each year, 17 million women in these countries give birth in health centres with inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene.

UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, said ”when a baby is born in a health facility without adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene, the risk of infection and death for both the mother and the baby is high”.

“Every birth should be supported by a safe pair of hands, washed with soap and water, using sterile equipment, in a clean environment.”

Infections account for 26 per cent of neonatal deaths and 11 per cent of maternal mortality. Also according to UNICEF, 7,000 newborn babies died every day in 2017, mostly from preventable and treatable conditions including infections like sepsis.

Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General said ”imagine giving birth or taking your sick child to a health centre with no safe water, toilets or handwashing facilities.

“That’s the reality for millions of people every day. No one should have to do that, and no health worker should have to provide care in those circumstances. Ensuring that all health care facilities have basic water, sanitation and hygiene services is essential for achieving a healthier, safer, fairer world,” he said.

Global measures

Meanwhile, WHO said governments would be expected to debate a resolution on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Health Care Facilities at the 2019 World Health Assembly to be held in May.

The debate has been unanimously approved by the WHO Executive Board earlier this year.

As part of its Every Child Alive Campaign, UNICEF is calling for governments and authorities to make sure every mother and baby have access to affordable, quality care.

In a similar vein, both Fore and Tedros have called on countries to strengthen their primary health care systems as an essential step toward achieving universal health coverage.

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