Clean water, safe sanitation and good hygiene in healthcare facilities are fundamental to infection prevention and control and the delivery of safe, dignified, quality healthcare for all. Yet alarming gaps exist in the provision of WASH in healthcare facilities across many countries

Why is WASH in healthcare facilities important?

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A hygienic environment with adequate sanitation - good hygiene practices by healthcare staff, patients and their caregivers, and access to clean water - is essential to patient and staff safety and quality of care. A lack of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in healthcare facilities is devastating, contributing to millions of infection-related deaths each year. Infections can also result in prolonged hospital stays, long-term disability, increased antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and healthcare costs for families and health systems. 

Inadequate WASH and high infection rates can also damage patients’ trust in health systems and their willingness to seek care, and can reduce health workers' safety, morale, attendance and retention.

WaterAid and healthcare facilities

We contribute to improving inclusive and sustainable WASH in healthcare facilities through all aspects of our work – policy, advocacy, direct services, training, research and behaviour change delivery. We underpin all of this with a systems strengthening and empowerment approach, so that health workers, their patients and the larger community benefit from sustainable services. Explore just some of our work in healthcare facilities across the world in the map below.

To support the universal health coverage goals of ensuring that safe services reach everyone, strong health systems need:

  • strong government leadership
  • skilled personnel
  • informed and empowered citizens 
  • gender and social inclusion
  • good sector governance and accountability
  • clear and focused policies
  • sustainable financing
  • access to health information systems
     

Improving WASH and broader environmental health conditions therefore demands a system-wide, holistic approach.

Ensuring that quality service delivery and behaviour change will last requires working through all the elements of the health system. To strengthen the ability of health systems to improve and embed WASH, we model quality delivery of services and behaviour-change strategies so they can be scaled up, support the development and implementation of policies, empower and build the capacity of workers, and advocate for improvements.

Over the past five years, WASH in healthcare facilities has gathered momentum on the global health and development agenda. A huge milestone was the adoption of a World Health Assembly resolution on WASH in healthcare facilities in May 2019 – an effort WaterAid drove and influenced substantially in support of member states. The resolution is a specific, public commitment by all of the world’s health ministers to invest in action on WASH in healthcare facilities.

Transforming health systems

Explore snapshots of where our work with government and health ministries to improve WASH in healthcare facilities has shown successful change. This report outlines the health systems strengthening approach we have taken and how this supported sustainable improvements.

WaterAid/ Basile Ouedraogo

Thematic areas of our work

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WASH and health

Watch our short video explaining the relationship between water, sanitation and hygiene, and health.

Being a midwife in Tanzania is a world away from delivering life in the UK. WaterAid's film, Parallel Lives, shows two very different worlds and allows you to experience what life is like for midwives Juliana Msoffe in rural Tanzania and Delia Jepson in the UK.

Urgent investment in water, sanitation and hygiene for public health is central to securing progress towards universal health coverage and ensuring an effective response to global health threats.

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Top image: Nurse and midwife Mary Khobiri, 34, washes her hands at Mangamba Health Centre, Machinga, Malawi.