WASH: One in four health facilities worldwide lack basic access to water supply, says WHO

The World Hand Hygiene Day is marked today, May 5 to foster and support a culture of handwashing, while raising awareness and understanding about this effective and affordable way to help prevent the spread of diseases.

According to a statement from the World Health Organisation, (WHO) this year’s theme, “Unite for Safety – Clean Your Hands”, focuses specifically on health facilities, with a call to all health workers, patients and their family members to unite on hand hygiene to achieve a culture of high quality, safer care.

The statement further stated that “Evidence shows us that effective infection prevention and control measures, including hand hygiene, could reduce health care-associated infections by more than half, while boosting new-born survival rates by as much as 44%.

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“Correct, frequent hand hygiene also plays a significant role in the fight against epidemics and pandemics, as we have seen from the response to COVID-19 and cholera, as well as the burgeoning threat of anti-microbial resistance.”

The statement quoted the Director of the WHO Regional Office for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti as saying that the depth of the challenge of prioritizing hand hygiene as an infection prevention and control measure is highlighted by WHO/UNICEF global estimates, which reveal that one in every four health facilities worldwide lack even the most basic access to water supplies, and one in every three do not have hand hygiene facilities at point of care. “The situation is even more dire in Africa, where half of all health care facilities do not have basic water access.”

The WHO also revealed that it has developed and disseminated hand hygiene in health care guidelines to Member States and facilities, and offered technical guidance in the implementation of monitoring tools in countries in the African Region.

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“Additionally, WHO in the African Region has supported the improvement of hand hygiene practices through awareness campaigns in Member States, the training of more than 200 000 health workers since the onset of COVID-19, and the provision of WASH infrastructural support to multiple facilities.

“Technical guidance on local production of Alcohol-Based Hand Rub (ABHR), and scaling up existing efforts, has been conducted in Member States including Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, South Africa and Uganda.”

The United Nations agency further pointed out that it has collaborated with the African Union and the Africa Centres for Diseases Control and Prevention to develop a legal framework to institutionalize Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) standards at national level, and in healthcare facilities.

“This legal framework emphasizes that hand hygiene is a national indicator of the quality of healthcare systems that must be formalized in all countries. Good practices on hand hygiene need to be expanded and sustained to build a culture of compliance, to ultimately improve the well-being of all people in the African Region.

“Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), and hand hygiene measures, are a fundamental part of the WHO’s Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC) minimum requirements. The Regional IPC strategic plan includes implementation of these minimum requirements in all countries in the Region, with a view to boosting future resilience.”

It was emphasised that a holistic approach that includes improved collaboration, and public-private partnerships and investment, remains crucial to expanding and maintaining infrastructure for safe water, sanitation and hygiene in the Region.

“More financial resources are required in most African countries to achieve universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene services by 2030, and research on the socio-economic burden of healthcare-associated infections in African countries is also needed.

“To prioritize clean hands in health facilities, workers at all levels need to believe in the importance of hand hygiene and IPC in saving lives. They are key players in achieving the appropriate behaviours and attitudes to this critical intervention.”

Dr. Moeti seized the occasion of the World Hand Hygiene Day, to appreciate hardworking health care staff in the African Region for leading by example, and encouraging others to clean their hands.

“I would also like to acknowledge the work of IPC practitioners, who tirelessly encourage health workers to become part of new hand hygiene initiatives.

To governments and partners, I urge you to invest more in the expansion of access to safe water and sanitation for our people.

“If we all “unite for safety” by practising good hand hygiene, we will indeed be better positioned to secure the high quality and safer care which we all envision for future generations of Africans.”

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