Healthcare workers account for an estimated 3% of the world’s population, but account for 14% of all infections with COVID-19. WHO Secretary-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus revealed this during remarks at a media briefing yesterday.
He also said that new data from WHO and UNICEF show that one in four health facilities globally lack basic water services. This puts health workers and patients at risk from infections of all kinds, makes childbirth much less safe, and drives antimicrobial resistance.
This means that around 1.8 billion people are at heightened risk of COVID-19 and other diseases because they use or work in health care facilities without basic water services. “Working in a health care facility without water, sanitation and hygiene is akin to sending nurses and doctors to work without personal protective equipment” explaiend the WHO Director-General. “Water supply, sanitation and hygiene in health care facilities are fundamental to stopping COVID-19. But there are still major gaps to overcome, particularly in least developed countries.”
Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) are vital to the safety of health workers and patients yet provision of these services is not prioritized. Worldwide, 1 in 4 health care facilities has no water services, 1 in 3 does not have access to hand hygiene where care is provided, 1 in 10 has no sanitation services*, and 1 in 3 does not segregate waste safely.
“Sending healthcare workers and people in need of treatment to facilities without clean water, safe toilets, or even soap puts their lives at risk,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “This was certainly true before the COVID-19 pandemic, but this year has made these disparities impossible to ignore. As we reimagine and shape a post-COVID world, making sure we are sending children and mothers to places of care equipped with adequate water, sanitation and hygiene services is not merely something we can and should do. It is an absolute must.”
The situation is worst of all in the world’s 47 Least Developed Countries (LDCs): 1 in 2 health care facilities does not have basic drinking water, 1 in 4 health care facilities has no hand hygiene facilities at points of care; and 3 in 5 lack basic sanitation services.