Water and Sanitation Lacking in Developing Countries

The World Health Organisation (WHO), in partnership with UNICEF, launched a joint report looking at health facilities worldwide and ways to increase funding mechanisms to address access to water and sanitation services in developing countries.

“New data from WHO and UNICEF shows that one in four health facilities around the world lack basic water services. This puts health workers and patients at risk from infections of all kinds, makes childbirth much less safe, and drives antimicrobial resistance.” WHO

It is estimated that 1.8 billion people are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 because they are working in health care facilities without basic water services.

“Working in a health care facility without water, sanitation and hygiene is akin to sending nurses and doctors to work without personal protective equipment”, said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “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.” 

The report, Global Progress Report on WASH in Health Care Facilities, exposes the vulnerabilities in health systems and inadequate infection prevention and control, exacerbated by COVID-19.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) are critical to the safety of health workers and patients. 

The report shows that worldwide:

  • 1 in 4 health care facilities has no water services
  • 1 in 3 does not have access to hand hygiene where care is provided
  • 1 in 10 has no sanitation services
  • 1 in 3 does not segregate waste safely

“Sending healthcare workers and people in need of treatment to facilities without clean water, safe toilets, or even soap puts their lives at risk,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “This was certainly true before the COVID-19 pandemic, but this year has made these disparities impossible to ignore. As we reimagine and shape a post-COVID world, making sure we are sending children and mothers to places of care equipped with adequate water, sanitation and hygiene services is not merely something we can and should do. It is an absolute must.”

In the 47 Least Developed Countries (LDCs): 

  • 1 in 2 health care facilities does not have basic drinking water
  • 1 in 4 health care facilities has no hand hygiene facilities at points of care;
  • 3 in 5 lack basic sanitation services. 

The report provides four main recommendations:

  • Implement national roadmaps with appropriate financing
  • Monitor and review progress in improving WASH services 
  • Train health workforce to sustain WASH services 
  • Integrate WASH into health sector planning, budgeting, and programming

WASH health partners have committed resources, with investments of USD125 million, so far. “For millions of healthcare workers across the world, water is PPE”, said Jennifer Sara, Global Director for Water at the World Bank Group. “It is essential that financing keeps flowing to bring water and sanitation services to those battling the COVID crisis on the frontlines. Funding WASH in healthcare facilities is among the most cost-effective investments that governments can make.”