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The importance of clean water and good hygiene

These two things are fundamental to stopping the spread of Covid-19 and preventing future health crises

By Wateraid  

Midwife Fostina Sedjoah aged 36, washes her hands at the Katiu CHPS health centre in Ghana © WaterAid/ Eliza Powell

Without clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene, hospitals and clinics – the very places that are supposed to make you well – can become breeding grounds for disease.

Since the year 2000, 1.8 billion people have gained access to basic drinking water services and 2.1 billion have gained access to decent toilets. In the last five years alone, every UK taxpayer has helped to bring clean water and better sanitation to 62 million people; transforming their lives through UK Aid spending. But new figures show that almost 2 billion people still depend on healthcare facilities with no clean water.

Fixing this is possible within the next decade and is one of the smartest investments we can make to save lives now and prepare for the next pandemic.

Providing doctors, nurses and patients with somewhere to clean their hands is one of the most effective ways to halt the spread of disease. And yet, 1 in 4 health care facilities has no clean water on site, 1 in 3 has no handwashing facilities at the point of care and 1 in 10 has no decent toilets.

In the world’s poorest countries, the situation is even worse. Half of all hospitals and clinics there have no clean water.

“Working in a health care facility without water, sanitation and hygiene is akin to sending nurses and doctors to work without personal protective equipment” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “Water supply, sanitation and hygiene in health care facilities are fundamental to stopping
COVID-19. But there are still major gaps to overcome, particularly in the least developed countries.”

Improving hygiene in health care facilities means health workers and patients can focus on giving and receiving quality care they need, during the COVID-19 pandemic and far beyond.

It could save a million pregnant mothers and newborn babies from dying of preventable diseases. And it would even help to tackle the surge of antibiotic resistant infections we are seeing emerge, as better hygiene would reduce infections, and the need for antibiotic use.

WaterAid is currently working as part of the Hygiene & Behaviour Change Coalition (HBCC), set up by Unilever and the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to curb the spread of COVID-19 among the world’s most vulnerable populations through the promotion of handwashing and good hygiene. WaterAid are on their way to installing over 1000 handwashing facilities in countries including Zambia, Ghana and Nepal as part of the programme. Half of these are in hospitals and healthcare facilities, which means that doctors, nurses and patients can wash their hands and prevent the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19.

As part of the HBCC, WaterAid is also running behaviour change campaigns highlighting the importance of hygiene and handwashing for some of the world’s most vulnerable communities through innovative media partnerships, celebrity ambassadors and social media messages, which have already reached almost 90 million people.

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