Together with physical distancing, having clean water for handwashing is a vital first line of defence against COVID-19. Yet, 3 billion people lack soap and water at home. The situation is stark in healthcare facilities. Globally, 2 in 5 lack hand hygiene facilities at the point of care and in least-developed countries, nearly half have no clean water on site.

Public health is impossible without access to clean water and hygiene services for health workers, their patients and communities. The WASH [water, sanitation and hygiene] crisis represents a critical weakness in health systems and a fundamental flaw in our collective armour against COVID-19.

Within the COVID-19 response, we urge member states to:

  • Urgently invest in water, sanitation and hygiene services, infrastructure, supplies and training for all frontline health workers, including auxiliary staff, in accordance with WHA72.7 resolution on WASH in healthcare facilities.
  • Initiate nationwide mass public health and hygiene information campaigns, tailored to meet the needs of all.
  • Ensure ministries responsible for water and sanitation are centrally involved in cross-government COVID-19 response and facilitate use of data on WASH access for ‘at risk’ communities and healthcare facilities.
  • Embed WASH in national standards and monitoring processes for quality of care and pandemic preparedness.

We call on development partners to urgently increase investment for hygiene services for communities and frontline health workers and to double Official Development Assistance for WASH in the short term to strengthen pandemic preparedness and response and strengthen vital WASH systems.

WaterAid will continue to support member states, building on our work across 26 countries to improve access to clean water and hygiene services so everyone, including those on the front line of the response, can wash their hands, take vital steps to keep each other safe and halt the spread of COVID-19.

Written statement at the virtual 73rd World Health Assembly, 18 May 2020.