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Unhygienic health facilities expose 1.8 billion persons to COVID-19, others

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World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) have warned that some 1.8 billion people are predisposed to COVID-19 and related ailments due to absence of water and sanitary services in healthcare facilities.

A joint report yesterday, titled “Fundamentals first: Universal water, sanitation and hygiene services in healthcare facilities for safe, quality care”, comes as the pandemic further exposed major vulnerabilities within health systems, including inadequate infection prevention and control.

According to the document, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) are vital to safety of health workers and patients, but lamented that they are never prioritised.

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Globally, one in every four health centres has no water, one in three lacks hand hygiene, one in 10 has no sanitation services, and one in three does not segregate waste safely.

The situation is worse in the world’s 47 least developed countries (LDCs): one in two health facilities does not have basic drinking water, one in four has no hand hygiene facilities at points of care, and three in five lack basic sanitation services. But this can be fixed, the two global agencies added.

The report’s preliminary estimates indicate that it would cost roughly $1 per capita for the LDCs to get water in these health centres. On the average, $0.20 per capita is needed yearly to operate and maintain services.

The document observed that immediate and incremental investment in WASH attracts with big returns, adding that improving hygiene in healthcare facilities was a “best buy” for tackling antimicrobial resistance.

Both organisations went on: “It reduces healthcare cost because it reduces associated infections (which are costly to treat). It saves time, as health workers do not have to search for water for hand hygiene. Better hygiene also increases uptake of services. This all adds up to a return of $1.5 for every dollar invested.

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“These services are especially critical for vulnerable populations, including pregnant mothers, newborns and children.” WHO’s Director-General, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, noted: “Working in a healthcare facility without water, sanitation and hygiene is akin to sending nurses and doctors to work without personal protective equipment.”

“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 least developed countries.”

In her remarks, UNICEF’s Executive Director, UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, submitted: “Sending healthcare workers and people in need of treatment to facilities without clean water, safe toilets or even soap puts their lives at risk.

“This was certainly true before the COVID-19 pandemic, but this year has made these disparities impossible to ignore.”

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