Half of the world’s health facilities lack basic hygiene services

According to the most recent report of the Joint Program of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), half of the world’s health facilities lack toilets and basic services hygiene kits equipped with soap and water or hydroalcoholic disinfectant in the facilities where patient care is provided. The nearly 3.85 billion people who go to these establishments are at great risk of contracting infections, even more so if one takes into account that 688 million are cared for in establishments where there is no type of hygiene service.

Dr Maria Neira, Director of the WHO Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, said: “The existence of hygienic facilities and practices in health facilities is non-negotiable. It is essential to improve them in order to prepare for, prevent and recover from epidemics, but we will not be able to move forward if investments in basic measures such as clean water, clean toilets and safe management of waste are not increased. waste from health care activities. I encourage Member States to intensify their efforts to implement the commitment made in 2019 by the World Health Assembly to strengthen water, sanitation and hygiene services in health facilities, as well as to monitor these efforts.”

In the report on the progress made in the period 2000–2021 in the area of water, sanitation and hygiene in health establishments, which focuses especially on its usefulness in preventing and controlling infections, for the first time some references are established that are applicable to everyone about hygiene services. Thanks to the fact that, on this occasion, the number of countries that have provided data on essential elements of water, sanitation and hygiene services in their hospitals and health establishments has been higher than in previous reports, it has been possible to establish these references regarding access to health care points and toilets. Data on hygiene services are currently available from 40 countries, covering 35% of the world’s population,

These new estimates reveal a clearer and more alarming picture of the hygiene situation in health facilities. Although 68% of them have these facilities in the places where patients are cared for and 65% have points to wash their hands with soap and water in the toilets, only 51% have both resources and, consequently, , meets the criteria established for basic hygiene services. Another revealing fact is that one of every 11 health establishments (9%) does not have any of these resources.

Kelly Ann Naylor, Director of the Program Group on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene and Climate and on Environment, Energy and Disaster Risk Reduction at UNICEF, said: “If health workers don’t have access to hygiene services, It cannot be said that health care is provided to the users of these establishments. Hospitals and clinics that lack clean water and basic hygiene and sanitation services can be a death trap for pregnant women, newborns and children. Each year, about 670,000 newborns die from infections. It is a huge tragedy, especially considering that these deaths are preventable.

The report points out that contaminated environments and hands are an important source of transmission of pathogens and generation of resistance to antimicrobials in health facilities. To improve infection control and prevention programs, it is essential to provide more access to points to wash hands with soap and water and to sanitize the environment. These are essential measures in order to provide quality care, especially for safe childbirth.

Coverage of water, sanitation and hygiene facilities remains uneven across regions and countries based on income group:

Facilities in sub-Saharan Africa lag behind in hygiene services. While three-quarters (73%) of health facilities in the region have services for handwashing with alcohol or soap and water at points of care, only one-third (37%) provide water and soap in the toilets. The vast majority (87%) of hospitals have facilities for hand hygiene at points of care, while this proportion is 68% of other health establishments.

In less developed countries, only 53% of health facilities have a protected water source in their facilities. For comparison, the worldwide figure is 78%. In hospitals it reaches 88%, while in smaller health establishments the percentage is 77%; in East and South-East Asia, this proportion is 90%. Worldwide, about 3% of health facilities in urban areas and 11% in rural areas lack water services.

In the countries for which data is available, one in ten health facilities does not have sanitation services. The proportion of health facilities without sanitation services ranges from 3% in Latin America and the Caribbean and in East and South-East Asia to 22% in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, only one in five (21%) of the least developed countries have basic sanitation services in health facilities.

The data further reveals that many health facilities lack basic environmental hygiene services and the safe separation and disposal of health care waste.

The report is presented at the World Water Week held in Stockholm (Sweden). In the annual conference, which takes place from August 23 to September 1, new ways of facing the greatest challenges for humanity are studied: from food security and health to agriculture, and livestock, technology, biodiversity and the weather.

About the World Health Organization

The World Health Organization is the lead agency for global public health activities within the United Nations system. Founded in 1948, WHO works with its 194 Member States, in six regions and from more than 150 offices, to promote health, preserve global security and serve vulnerable populations. Its goal for 2019–2023 is to bring one billion more people into universal health coverage, protect one billion more people from health emergencies, and improve the health and well-being of another one billion people.

Source: UN Children’s Fund