The emergence of COVID-19 has shown the existing vulnerabilities within the global development sector esp. within the WASH segment and the need to urgently address these systemic weaknesses. Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) remains one of the most significant areas within the development sector. According to WHO/UNICEF, 2.1 billion people lack access to safe readily available water at home and a staggering 4.4 billion lack safety managed sanitation that includes 800 million with no facilities to toilets. The last mile connectivity of safe WASH in healthcare facilities has further expedited the crisis caused due to the pandemic. The frontline healthcare workers are at the highest risk; they account for 14 percent of the COVID-19 cases but represent only three percent of the global population based on WHO data.
Image: The middle Road; DatA: WHO/UNICEF
One of the major reasons for the spread of COVID-19 globally is the ability of the SARS- CoV-2 virus to spread easily even more so with the emergence of the new virus strain found in the United Kingdom. Importance of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) within the healthcare ecosystem cannot be understated. Worldwide, 1 in 4 healthcare facilities has no access to water while 1 in 10 has no sanitation services, a woeful situation, far worse among the 47 Least Developed Countries (LDC). In LDC 1 in 2 healthcare facilities has no access to basic drinking water. However, sad the situation, it can be rectified with capital. Based on the global and national responses to the 2019 World Health Assembly resolution on WASH about health care facilities, it would cost roughly $1 per capita to enable all 47 LDC to implement basic water services at its healthcare facilities with maintenance costs running at $0.2 per year. The positive aspect of this analysis is that among the 47 least developed countries included as part of the survey, 85% of the countries have conducted situational analyses, 65% have updated and implemented related standards, and over 70% have set up national coordination mechanisms to meet global WASH standards.
The importance of WASH within healthcare units is paramount as approximately 5.7 to 8.4 million people die per year in low- and middle-income countries due to poor quality care and an estimated 15% of patients acquire one or more infection while admitted to hospitals. The worst-hit are the marginalized communities as the gap of inequality has increased during the pandemic especially for pregnant women and children. Sepsis accounts for 11 million potentially avoidable deaths and infects pregnant women in large proportions, a condition that can be avoided due to appropriate WASH and other preventive practices. WHO and UNICEF initiative “Hand Hygiene for All”, a simple intervention has enabled considerable social change and impact implemented through a collaborative effort by various actors within the social ecosystem. Handwashing as part of personal hygiene is increasingly becoming popular. Global Handwashing Day started in collaboration with Unilever and the Global Handwashing Partnership movement dedicated to enhancing awareness of handwashing with soap as a preventive tool for diseases, is celebrated by ~ 200 million people in more than 100 countries.
As the path ahead becomes murkier, the WHO/UNICEF report shares thoughtful measures including budgeted roadmaps with sources of financing, development and measure progress along with integrating WASH within the healthcare ecosystem among others. The full report can be downloaded through the link here.