At the 2023 World Health Assembly, our message was simple: world leaders have the power to save millions of lives by investing in clean water, sanitation and hygiene in healthcare facilities. This is an achievable and affordable action. The choice to act – or not – lies with health ministers and their governments.

Delivering safe, dignified and quality healthcare to everyone, everywhere

From 21–30 May 2023, ministers of health from around the world convened in Geneva, Switzerland, for the 76th World Health Assembly. The World Health Organization (WHO) hosted the Assembly under the theme 'WHO at 75: saving lives, driving health for all'.  

At the heart of realising this ambition is the delivery of safe, dignified and quality healthcare to everyone, everywhere. This, however, will remain impossible until healthcare facilities everywhere have access to clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene.  

  • Half of healthcare facilities in the world do not have basic hand hygiene facilities on site. 
  • 1.7 billion people are at higher risk of contracting infectious diseases because they use or work in a healthcare facility that does not provide basic hygiene.
  • Every two seconds a woman gives birth in a healthcare facility without water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).
  • More than a million mothers and newborn babies die each year due to preventable infections linked to unclean births. 

This is appalling. This is unacceptable.

Read our key takeaways from the Assembly

The cost of poor WASH in healthcare facilities

For health workers, for those seeking care – especially women and girls – and for global health, the lack of WASH in healthcare facilities comes with dire consequences.

It enables deadly infections to spread globally, killing millions of people around the world every year.

It undermines the efforts of health workers, robs patients of their dignity and widens inequity in healthcare.

On 25 May, alongside the World Health Assembly, we hosted a side event – 'Affordable but overlooked: the healthcare vitals that will save millions of lives' – with WHO, the White Ribbon Alliance and the Global Taskforce on WASH in Healthcare Facilities.

See the key speakers and agenda (PDF)

A problem health ministers can solve by 2030

Health ministers and their governments have the power to save millions of lives every year by investing in WASH in healthcare facilities.

A targeted investment of US$9.6 billion is needed to provide every healthcare facility in the least-developed countries with clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene by 2030. That’s just $0.60 per person, per year in least developed countries until 2030.

This affordable action will bring immense benefits to patients and healthcare workers, and reduce the burden of healthcare costs.

The cost of saving millions of lives in the world's least developed countries is less than a dollar per person per year until 2030.

The cost of inaction, on the other hand, is devastating and will be paid by pregnant women, patients, health workers and their families around the world.  

Who pays what price? The choice belongs to health ministers and their governments.

What we called for at the 76th World Health Assembly

Health ministers and governments in low- and middle-income countries to finance and deliver clean water, sanitation and hygiene in every healthcare facility in their countries by 2030.

Health ministers and governments in high-income countries to mobilise global funding and collaborate to make sure healthcare facilities everywhere have clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene.

Donors  to ringfence investment for clean water, sanitation and hygiene in healthcare facilities, and to build robust monitoring systems that ensure resources reach those who need them most.

WaterAid supporters to share our message and tell their health ministers that the choice to save millions of lives – or not – is theirs!

Water, sanitation and hygiene

A foundation of strong, resilient health systems

A nurse takes care of Ma Naing Naing, 33, and her baby in one of the baby rooms of Hinthada hospital, Myanmar, March 12 2020.
Image: WaterAid/Ko Ko Htay

Top image: Afonsina Mulikiwa sits in the waiting area with another patient as they wait to be attended to at the health centre in Napacala. Niassa Province, Mozambique, 23 July, 2022.