Half of world’s healthcare facilities lack basic hygiene services, nearly 4 billion people at risk

Every year, a whopping 670,000 newborns lose their lives to sepsis

By Arya Rohini
Published: Tuesday 30 August 2022
Hygiene in healthcare facilities cannot be secured without increasing investments in basic measures. Photo: UNICEF__

Half of the world’s healthcare facilities lack basic hygiene services, putting 3.85 billion people at an increased risk of infections, according to a new report.

These facilities do not provide patients with water, soap, or alcohol-based hand rubs, noted the joint monitoring programme report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released August 29, 2022.

Around 3.85 billion people rely on these facilities and 688 million receive care at facilities with no hygiene services at all.

“Hygiene facilities and practices in health care settings are non-negotiable. Their improvement is essential to pandemic recovery, prevention and preparedness,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO director of the department of public health and environment.

Hygiene in healthcare facilities cannot be secured without increasing investments in basic measures, which include safe water, clean toilets and safely managed healthcare waste, she added.

Neira encouraged countries to implement their 2019 World Health Assembly commitment to strengthen water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services in health care facilities.

The coverage of WASH facilities is still uneven across different regions and income groupings.

The WHO estimate paints a more accurate and disturbing picture of the cleanliness situation in healthcare facilities. Only 51 per cent of healthcare facilities met the requirements for basic hygiene services.

Some 68 per cent of them provided facilities for handwashing with water and soap at restrooms and 65 per cent had such amenities at points of care. Furthermore, just one in 11 medical facilities worldwide has both.

“If health care providers don’t have access to a hygiene service, patients don’t have a health care facility,” said Kelly Ann Naylor, UNICEF director for WASH.

Hospitals and clinics without safe water and basic hygiene and sanitation services are a potential death trap for pregnant mothers, newborns and children, she added.

Every year, a whopping 670,000 newborns lose their lives to sepsis. Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when the body’s response to an infection damages its own tissues.

“This is a travesty — even more so as their deaths are preventable,” she added.

Unhygienic hands and environment significantly influence disease transmission in healthcare facilities and the emergence of antibiotic resistance, the report further stated.

Promoting access to handwashing with water and soap and cleaning is essential for providing high-quality health care, especially for safe deliveries.

In sub-Saharan Africa, facilities are falling behind in terms of hygiene services. Some 73 per cent of healthcare institutions in the region provide alcohol-based hand rubs or water and soap at points of care. But, only 37 per cent of restrooms have handwashing stations with water and soap.

Only 53 Per cent of healthcare institutions in the least developed countries have access to safe water supply. The proportion for eastern and south-eastern Asia is 90 per cent, with hospitals performing better than smaller healthcare facilities. Some 11 per cent of the rural and 3 per cent of urban healthcare institutions lacked access to water.

The report was released during World Water Week held in Stockholm, Sweden. The annual conference, which takes place from August 23 to September 1, examines fresh approaches to solving some of humanity’s most pressing problems, including food security, health, agriculture, technology, biodiversity and climate.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.