Half of the world’s healthcare facilities lack basic hygiene services, putting nearly four billion people at greater risk of infection, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
These facilities do not have water and soap or alcohol-based hand rubs where patients receive care, and in their toilets, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
The latest Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) report indicates that about 3.85 billion people use these facilities, putting them at greater risk of infections, including 688 million people who receive care at facilities with no hygiene services at all.
The report titled “Progress on WASH in health care facilities 2000–2021: special focus on WASH and infection prevention and control”, has for the first time established this global baseline on hygiene services – which assessed access at points of care as well as toilets – as more countries than ever report on critical elements of WASH services in their hospitals and other health centres.
The WHO Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, Maria Neira, said hygiene facilities and practices in healthcare settings are non-negotiable.
“Their improvement is essential to pandemic recovery, prevention, and preparedness.”
Ms Neira said hygiene in health care facilities cannot be secured without increasing investments in basic measures, which include safe water, clean toilets, and safely managed healthcare waste.
“I encourage member states to step up their efforts to implement their 2019 World Health Assembly commitment to strengthen WASH services in health care facilities, and to monitor these efforts.”
The newly established global estimate, based on data from 40 countries and regions, presents an “alarming picture” of the state of hygiene in health facilities, the report said.
It said 68 per cent of healthcare facilities had hygiene facilities at points of care, and 65 per cent had handwashing facilities with water and soap at toilets.
However, only 51 per cent had both, and, therefore, met the criteria for basic hygiene services.
The report shows that nine per cent of healthcare facilities globally have neither.
According to the report, facilities in sub-Saharan Africa were lagging, with only 37 per cent having handwashing facilities with soap and water at toilets.
In the least-developed countries, only 53 per cent of facilities had access to a protected water source on site.
Globally, around three per cent of healthcare facilities in urban areas and 11 per cent in rural areas had no water service.
The report also found that many facilities lacked basic environmental cleaning and safe segregation and disposal of healthcare waste.
“If health care providers don’t have access to a hygiene service, patients don’t have a healthcare facility,” said Kelly Naylor, UNICEF Director of WASH and Climate, Environment, Energy, and Disaster Risk Reduction (CEED).
Ms Naylor said hospitals and clinics without safe water and basic hygiene and sanitation services are a potential death trap for pregnant mothers, newborns, and children.
Every year, around 670,000 newborns lose their lives to sepsis. “This is a travesty – even more so as their deaths are preventable,” she said.
The report notes that contaminated hands and environments play a significant role in pathogen transmission in healthcare facilities and the spread of antimicrobial resistance.
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