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‘3.85b persons risk contracting, spreading diseases for accessing unhygienic healthcare facilities’

By Chukwuma Muanya
31 August 2022   |   2:38 am
No fewer than 3.85 billion people stand greater chances of contracting infections and spreading them to patients and healthcare providers for receive care from unhygienic facilities

FILE PHOTO: Healthcare workers .REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic/File Photo

No fewer than 3.85 billion people stand greater chances of contracting infections and spreading them to patients and healthcare providers for receive care from unhygienic facilities, according to the latest Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) report by World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

Newly established global estimate on hygiene revealed that half of the healthcare centres worldwide lack basic hygiene services like water and soap or alcohol-based hand rub and toilets.

“Around 3.85 billion people use these facilities, putting them at greater risk of infection, including 688 million people, who receive care at facilities with no hygiene services at all,” it noted.

WHO Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, Dr. Maria Neira, said: “Hygiene facilities and practices in health care settings are non-negotiable. Their improvement is essential to pandemic recovery, prevention and preparedness. Hygiene in healthcare facilities cannot be secured without increasing investments in basic measures, which include safe water, clean toilets and safely managed healthcare waste.

“I encourage member-states to step up their efforts to implement their 2019 World Health Assembly commitment to strengthen water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services in healthcare facilities and monitor these efforts.”

The newest report, “Progress on WASH in healthcare facilities 2000–2021: special focus on WASH and infection prevention and control”, has, for the first time, established this global baseline on hygiene services – which assessed access at points of care as well as toilets – as more countries than ever report on critical elements of WASH services in their hospitals and other health centres.

For hygiene, data are now available for 40 countries, representing 35 per cent of the world’s population, up from 21 nations in 2020 and 14 in 2019.

The estimate reveals a clearer and more alarming picture of the state of hygiene in healthcare facilities.

Though 68 per cent of healthcare structures had hygiene facilities at points of care and 65 per cent with handwashing amenities, including water and soap in toilets, only 51 per cent had both and, therefore, met the criteria for basic hygiene services. Furthermore, one in 11 (nine per cent) of healthcare facilities globally has neither.

UNICEF Director of WASH and Climate, Environment, Energy and Disaster Risk Reduction (CEED), Kelly Ann Naylor, said: “If healthcare providers don’t have access to a hygiene service, patients don’t have a healthcare facility.

“Hospitals and clinics without safe water and basic hygiene and sanitation services are a potential death trap for pregnant mothers, newborns and children. Every year, around 670,000 newborns lose their lives to sepsis. This is a travesty – even more so as their deaths are preventable.”

The document noted that contaminated hands and environments play a significant role in pathogen transmission in healthcare facilities and the spread of antimicrobial resistance. Interventions to increase access to hand washing with water and soap and environmental cleaning form the cornerstone of infection prevention and control programmes and are crucial to providing quality care, particularly for safe childbirth.

According to the report, coverage of WASH facilities is still uneven across different regions and income groups.

Facilities in Sub-Saharan Africa are lagging on hygiene services. While three-quarters (73 per cent) of healthcare facilities in the region overall have alcohol-based hand rubs or water and soap at points of care, only one-third (37 per cent) have hand washing facilities with water and soap in toilets. The vast majority (87 per cent) of hospitals have hand hygiene facilities at points of care, compared to 68 per cent of other healthcare facilities.

In the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), only 53 per cent of healthcare facilities have access on-premises to a protected water source. To compare, the global figure is 78 per cent with hospitals (88 per cent) doing better than smaller healthcare facilities (77 per cent) and the figure for eastern and southeastern Asia is 90 per cent. Globally, around three per cent of healthcare facilities in urban areas and 11 per cent in rural areas had no water services.

Of the countries with available data, one in 10 healthcare centres globally had no sanitation service. Proportion of the structures with no sanitation services ranged from three per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean and in eastern and southeastern Asia to 22 per cent in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the LDCs, just one in five (21 per cent) had basic sanitation services in healthcare facilities.

The data further revealed that many healthcare facilities lacked basic environmental cleaning and safe segregation and disposal of waste.

The report is being launched at World Water Week taking place in Stockholm, Sweden. The yearly conference, which runs from August 23 to September 1, explores new ways to tackle humanity’s greatest challenges: from food security and health to agriculture, technology, biodiversity and climate.

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