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One in four health care facilities lacks basic water services – UNICEF, WHO

World Health Organization

Geneva/ New
York. 07 April 2019. One in four health care facilities around the world lacks
basic water services, impacting over 2 billion people, according to a new
report by WHO and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply,
Sanitation and Hygiene (JMP).

The
WHO/UNICEF JMP report, WASH in Health Care Facilities, is the first
comprehensive global assessment of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in
health care facilities. It also finds 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 health care waste.

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

“Water,
sanitation and hygiene services in health facilities are the most basic
requirements of infection prevention and control, and of quality care.
They are fundamental to respecting the dignity and human rights of every person
who seeks health care and of health workers themselves,” said António
Guterres,
United Nations Secretary-General. 
“I call on people everywhere to support action for WASH in all health
care facilities.  This is essential to
achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”

The WHO/UNICEF
JMP report
found that just half – 55 per cent – of health care facilities
in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) had basic water services. It is estimated
that 1 in 5 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.

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

In an
accompanying report, Water, sanitation, and hygiene in health care facilities:
Practical steps to achieve universal access for quality care, WHO and UNICEF
researchers note that more than 1 million deaths each year are associated with
unclean births. Infections account for 26% of neonatal deaths and 11% of
maternal mortality.

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

At the 2019
World Health Assembly
to be held in May, governments will debate a
resolution on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Health Care Facilities which was
unanimously approved by the WHO Executive Board earlier this year.

WHO and
UNICEF Practical Steps report

The WHO and
UNICEF Practical Steps report provides details on eight actions governments can
take to improve the WASH services in health care facilities including
establishing national plans and targets, improving infrastructure and
maintenance and engaging communities. These actions and resulting improvements
in WASH services can yield dramatic returns on investment in the form of
improved maternal and newborn health, preventing antimicrobial resistance,
stopping disease outbreaks and improving quality of care.

According to
UNICEF, 7,000 newborn babies died every day in 2017, mostly from preventable
and treatable conditions including infections like sepsis. 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.

Last year, Fore and Dr Tedros called on countries to strengthen their primary health care systems as an essential step toward achieving universal health coverage.

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