COVID-19: Basic hygiene services lacking in sub-Saharan Africa

Amid the pandemic, it is very much essential to particularly focus on increasing access to water, sanitation and hygiene

By Rashmi Verma
Published: Wednesday 29 April 2020
A hospital in N'Gaoundere, Cameroon. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Basic hygiene services in healthcare facilities across sub-Saharan Africa are dismal according to recent figures and could compromise health systems amid the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Hand hygiene is a critical element in COVID-19 prevention. For this adequate availability of water and sanitation facilities are very much crucial in determining the efficiency of healthcare centres to dealing and preventing the spread of COVID-19.

However, the regional estimates for Sub-Saharan Africa (of year 2016) for water sanitation and hygiene in healthcare facilities as presented by the Joint Monitoring Report in 2019 are worrisome.

Source: https://washdata.org/data/healthcare#!/dashboard/2941

Of the total healthcare facilities, around 50 per cent have access to basic water services. ‘Basic water services’ is well defined when water is available from an improved source within the premises.

‘Limited’ means an improved water source is within 500 metres of the premises, but not all requirements for basic service are met; ‘None’ means water is taken from unprotected dug wells or springs, or surface water sources; or an improved source that is more than 500 metres from the facility; or the facility has no water source.

Source: https://washdata.org/data/healthcare#!/dashboard/2941

Around 22 per cent of the healthcare facilities in sub-Saharan African countries have access to basic sanitation facilities. Here, ‘basic’ stands for improved sanitation facilities, that are usable with at least one toilet dedicated for staff, at least one sex-separated toilet with menstrual hygiene facilities, and at least one toilet accessible for people with limited mobility. ‘Limited’ means at least one improved sanitation facility, but not all requirements for basic service are met; ‘None’ means toilet facilities are unimproved (pit latrines without a slab or platform, hanging latrines and bucket latrines), or there are no toilets or latrines at the facility.

Source: https://washdata.org/data/healthcare#!/dashboard/2941

The most disturbing figures are from the hand hygiene coverage in healthcare facilities. The data is insufficient in most of the cases, and only a small proportion have access to hand washing facilities.

To date, the number of reported cases of COVID-19 in sub-Saharan Africa has represented only a small proportion of the global total, but the rate at which the number of cases increases every week is a serious cause of concern.

There is a huge scope of improvement in healthcare facilities by creating adequate infrastructure. Amid COVID-19, it is very much essential to bring about transformation by particularly focusing on increasing access to water, sanitation and hygiene.

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