January 21, 2020
“Countries invest heavily in protecting their people from terrorist attacks, but not against the attack of a virus, which could be far more deadly, and far more damaging economically and socially. A pandemic could bring economies and nations to their knees,” according to Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as WHO announced 13 global health priorities in this decade. “The cost of doing nothing is one we cannot afford.”
Without basic WASH services — water, sinks, soap, toilets and hygiene practices — billions of patients, staff and families are put at risk when the foundation for safe, dignified and quality healthcare is absent. The data bear that out. In 2019, WHO/UNICEF issued the first global assessment detailing the dangerous conditions in low- and middle- income countries: 1 in 4 health facilities lacks basic water services, 1 in 5 lacks any sanitation, and 2 in 5 lack hand hygiene facilities at points of care.
WHO’s newly released list of the most urgent global health challenges in this decade includes “Keeping Health Facilities Clean,” pointing to dismal WASH conditions in healthcare facilities across low- and middle-income countries. Providing WASH to all healthcare facilities is fundamental to overcoming several other health challenges on the list, such as preventing and containing antimicrobial resistance and disease epidemics. “This list, developed with input from our experts around the world, reflects a deep concern that leaders are failing to invest enough resources in core health priorities and systems…Public health is ultimately a political choice.”
WASH in healthcare facilities is both urgent and solvable. What’s needed are not new technologies, but governments and partners committed to funding solutions that prioritize sustainability. This WHO announcement comes on the heels of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s Call to Action in 2018 and WHO Member States unanimous adoption of a Resolution in 2019.
WHO and its partners are working across 35 low- and middle- income countries with the global goal for all countries to have basic WASH services included in plans and budgets by 2023; and implementation completed by 2030. “There are no shortcuts to a healthier world,” wrote Dr. Tedros. “We need to realize that health is an investment in the future.”
For more information:
Lindsay Denny, MPH
Global Water 2020 Health Advisor
Global Water 2020 Communications
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