By Opija Raduk

Millions of lives can be saved and economic losses prevented through a simple and affordable intervention: ensuring access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services in healthcare facilities worldwide.

This is according to a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) titled “Water, Sanitation, Hygiene, Waste and Electricity Services in Health Care Facilities: 2023 Global Progress Report.”

The report reveals that poor-quality health care leads to approximately eight million deaths annually, resulting in a staggering $6 trillion in economic losses in 137 low and middle-income countries.

Simple measures such as hand hygiene, clean water stations, functioning toilets, and reliable water, are some of the measures the report notes will improve health care quality.

WHO Director for Environment, Climate Change and Health, Dr. Maria Neira, states that providing basic WASH and energy services in health care facilities is non-negotiable and affordable, debunking the notion that public health problems are too costly to address.

“We have no excuses and time is running out. Basic infrastructure is a prerequisite to quality of care and is essential for life-saving practices,” Dr. Maria has said.

The report notes that on average, basic WASH services cost only 60 US cents per person annually in the least developed countries (LDCs), amounting to a mere 6% of current government health spending in these nations. However, only 12% of countries have sufficient funds to achieve WASH targets in healthcare facilities.

Additionally, more than one billion people globally lack adequate WASH services when visiting healthcare facilities, with the situation being particularly dire in LDCs where less than three out of ten healthcare facilities have basic sanitation services.

To address these challenges, WHO and UNICEF urge countries and partners to overcome financial obstacles, integrate WASH, waste, and electricity services into health planning, empower health workers, and strengthen accountability through monitoring and reviewing progress.

The organizations are currently hosting a Global Summit on WASH services in healthcare facilities in Amman, Jordan, to discuss the report’s findings and strategize on implementing key recommendations.