WaterAid Nigeria has urged Minister of Health, Honourable Dr Osagie Ehanire, to prioritise basic hygiene for health care facilities as part of the COVID-19 pandemic recovery plan. This demand comes as health ministers from around the world prepare to attend the World Health Assembly, against a backdrop of international struggles to bring the virus under control.
Two years ago the World Health Assembly’s 194 members unanimously agreed to ensure universal access to water, sanitation, and hygiene in all hospitals and other health facilities – since then the pandemic has highlighted just how vital these basic services are in controlling infection. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, has described soap and water as akin to personal protective equipment and absolutely fundamental for stopping the spread of COVID-19.
However, in Nigeria, about 17% of health care centres lack do not have access to a water source, and four in five health care facilities (80%) still lacks somewhere to wash hands with soap to protect patients and healthcare workers from catching and spreading deadly infections. In the world’s poorest countries, half of all hospitals and clinics have no clean water on site.
When the World Health Assembly delegations last met in person, they passed a resolution to ensure that all health care facilities had water, sanitation, and hygiene. And yet, the data shows that across the world almost 2 billion people depend on health care facilities without basic water services, putting them at greater risk of catching COVID-19 and other deadly diseases. One in four health care facilities globally is still without clean water on site, one in three still has nowhere to wash hands where patients are treated and one in ten still lacks decent toilets.
The resolution has not translated to realistic actions in Nigeria either. National data shows that 26% of health care facilities do not have access to toilets on site and only 4% of health care facilities in Nigeria have access to combined water, sanitation, and hygiene services.
Last December, the WHO estimated that to bring clean water, handwashing facilities and decent toilets to the health care centres in the poorest countries would cost just $3.6billion – which equates to around an hour and a half’s worth of what the whole world spent in a year on the Covid-19 response.
Furthermore, research has shown that money spent on water, sanitation and hygiene within healthcare is a ‘best buy’ for any country, producing a fifty per cent return on investment. It helps to:
slow the spread of antimicrobial resistance – so-called Superbugs; prevent the spread of hospital infections; and reduce maternal and newborn deaths.
Sustainable access to water, sanitation and hygiene is a cost-effective measure that guarantees the fight against COVID-19 and future pandemics. This realises lasting health outcomes in Nigeria, enabling people to reach their full potential.
According to Evelyn Mere, Country Director, WaterAid Nigeria said: “Two years ago, at the World Health Assembly, global leaders resolved to prioritise water, sanitation and hygiene in all health care facilities. Now is the time for them to make good on those promises.
“Millions of people are at risk of contracting diseases because they use or work in a health care facility which lacks basic water services. In the twenty first century this simply shouldn’t be and needn’t be the case. The cost of investing to ensure every health centre and hospital in the poorest countries has a reliable water supply, working toilets and good hygiene may seem high but the benefits of such an investment far outweigh the cost.
“Trying to create a robust pandemic preparedness and response plan without ensuring that every health care centre has clean water and the ability to keep its patients, frontline health workers and premises clean is like building a fortress with a gaping hole where the door should be. Unless leaders wake up to this, more lives will be needlessly lost.”