UNICEF and the world health organization: one in four health care facilities lacks basic water services

Geneva/New York, April 3, 2019 - a quarter of health care facilities worldwide lack basic water services, affecting more than 2 billion people, according to the latest world health organization (who) and UNICEF joint monitoring project on water supply, sanitation and personal hygiene.

The report, water, sanitation and personal hygiene in health care Settings (water sanitation project), is the first comprehensive global assessment of water sanitation in health care Settings. The report found that one in five health facilities had no sanitation services, affecting 1.5 billion people. The report also shows that many health centers lack basic facilities for hand hygiene and safe isolation and disposal of medical waste.

These services are essential to prevent infection, reduce the spread of antimicrobial resistance, and provide quality care, especially for safe delivery.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said: "services related to water supply, sanitation and personal hygiene in health facilities are essential for infection prevention and control and for quality care. These services are essential to respect the dignity and human rights of every person who seeks health care and of health workers themselves. I call on people around the world to support water sanitation initiatives in all health care facilities. This is essential to achieving the sustainable development goals.

The who/UNICEF joint monitoring project on water supply, sanitation and personal hygiene also found that only half (55%) of health care facilities in the least developed countries have basic water services. It is estimated that one in five births worldwide takes place in the least developed countries, where 17 million women give birth each year in health centres with inadequate water, sanitation and personal hygiene services.

Henrietta h. Fore, UNICEF's executive director, said: "when a baby is born in a health facility with inadequate water, sanitation and personal hygiene services, the risk of infection and death is high for both mother and baby. Each birth should be carried out in a clean and hygienic environment with sterile equipment and through hands washed with soap and water."

In an accompanying report, water supply, sanitation and personal hygiene in health facilities: practical steps to achieving universal access to quality care, who and UNICEF researchers report that more than one million deaths a year are related to unclean childbirth. Twenty-six percent of newborn deaths and 11 percent of maternal deaths are caused by infections.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who director-general, said: "imagine giving birth or sending a child to a health centre without safe water, toilets or hand-washing facilities. This is a reality millions of people face every day. No one should, and health workers should not provide care in such situations. Ensuring that all health facilities have access to services related to basic water supply, sanitation and personal hygiene is essential to achieving a healthier, safer and fairer world.

At the world health assembly 2019, to be held in May, governments will debate a resolution on water supply, sanitation and personal hygiene in health facilities, which was unanimously adopted by the who executive board earlier this year.

The who and UNICEF practical steps report details eight actions governments can take to improve water sanitation project services in health facilities, including setting national plans and goals, improving infrastructure and maintenance, and engaging communities. These actions, and the resulting improvements in water sanitation program services, can generate significant returns on investment in improving maternal and newborn health, preventing antimicrobial resistance, ending outbreaks, and improving the quality of care.

According to UNICEF, 7,000 newborn babies died every day in 2017, most of them from preventable and treatable diseases, including infections such as sepsis. As part of its health for children campaign, UNICEF is calling on governments and authorities to ensure that every mother and baby has access to quality, affordable care.

Last year, Dr Fore and Dr Tandesai called on countries to strengthen their primary health care systems and take an important step towards universal health coverage.