As health ministers and health experts from the global community rev up preparations for the World Health Assembly in furtherance of their collective efforts to bring COVID-19 pandemic under control,
WaterAid Nigeria on Wednesday called on the Nigerian government to prioritise basic hygiene in its development programmes.
The non-governmental organization, in a statement sourced by our correspondent, directed to the country’s Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, recalled that two years ago the World Health Assembly’s 194 members unanimously agreed to ensure universal access to water, sanitation, and hygiene in all hospitals and other health facilities, noting that since then, the pandemic has highlighted just how vital these basic services are in controlling infection.
The organization further noted that the Director General, World Health Organization (WHO) Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, had described soap and water as akin to personal protective equipment (PPE) and absolutely fundamental for stopping the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.
It lamented that, however, in Nigeria, about 17% of healthcare centres lack access to a water source, and four in five healthcare facilities (80%) still lacks somewhere to wash hands with soap to protect patients and healthcare workers from catching and spreading deadly infections.
WaterAid Nigeria further pointed out that when the World Health Assembly delegations last met physically, they passed a resolution to ensure that all healthcare facilities had water, sanitation, and hygiene.
According to the NGO, despite the resolution available data shows that globally almost 2 billion people depend on healthcare facilities without basic water services, putting them at risk of catching COVID-19 and other deadly diseases.
For instance, it stated that currently one in four healthcare facilities globally is still without clean water on site, one in three still has nowhere to wash hands where patients are treated and one in ten still lacks decent toilets.
It expatiated: “The resolution has not translated to realistic actions in Nigeria either. National data shows that 26% of healthcare facilities do not have access to toilets on site and only 4% of healthcare facilities in Nigeria have access to combined water, sanitation, and hygiene services.
“Last December, the WHO estimated that to bring clean water, hand-washing facilities and decent toilets to the health care centres in the poorest countries would cost just $3.6billion – which equates to around an hour and a half’s worth of what the whole world spent in a year on the Covid-19 response.
“Furthermore, research has shown that money spent on water, sanitation and hygiene within healthcare is a ‘best buy’ for any country, producing a fifty per cent return on investment. It helps to slow the spread of antimicrobial resistance – so-called Superbugs; prevent the spread of hospital infections; and reduce maternal and newborn deaths.
“Sustainable access to water, sanitation and hygiene is a cost-effective measure that guarantees the fight against COVID-19 and future pandemics. This realises lasting health outcomes in Nigeria, enabling people to reach their full potential”, the NGO added.
In her remarks, Country Director, WaterAid Nigeria, Evelyn Mere, said: “Two years ago, at the World Health Assembly, global leaders resolved to prioritise water, sanitation and hygiene in all healthcare facilities. Now is the time for them to make good on those promises.
“Millions of people are at risk of contracting diseases because they use or work in a healthcare facility which lacks basic water services. In the twenty first century this simply shouldn’t be and needn’t be the case. The cost of investing to ensure every health centre and hospital in the poorest countries has a reliable water supply, working toilets and good hygiene may seem high but the benefits of such an investment far outweigh the cost.
“Trying to create a robust pandemic preparedness and response plan without ensuring that every health care centre has clean water and the ability to keep its patients, frontline health workers and premises clean is like building a fortress with a gaping hole where the door should be. Unless leaders wake up to this, more lives will be needlessly lost”, Mere warned.