Rick Santos, special advisor to Lutheran World Relief and IMA World Health, moderates a panel on identifying key limiting factors to getting WASH into healthcare facilities.

Lutheran World Relief and IMA World Health participate in historic meeting on water & sanitation for health care

  • John Rivera
  • Apr 12, 2019

Washington, DC—Following the first-ever global report on WASH in Healthcare Facilities, leaders from the world’s largest Faith-Based Organizations (FBO), including Lutheran World Relief and IMA World Health, assembled this week for an historic meeting to address this fundamental threat to global health: the widespread lack of water and basic sanitation inside hospitals and health clinics around the world.

USAID’s Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives and Global Water 2020 hosted at Bread for the World headquarters. Second only to governments, FBOs are the leading providers of healthcare in the developing world, running upwards of 50% of facilities in some regions.

From preventing antibiotic resistance and superbugs, to containing pandemics like Ebola and cholera, the need for water/sanitation/hygiene (WASH) is indisputable. But no one is more vulnerable than a newborn. Every year, 17 million women in developing countries give birth in healthcare facilities with inadequate WASH. One million deaths annually are associated with unclean births; infections account for 26% of neonatal and 11% of maternal deaths.

The widespread lack of safe water, toilets and soap is as persistent as are the threats it presents. Two billion people are impacted by healthcare facilities without basic water services; 1.5 billion people are impacted by healthcare facilities without sanitation, according to the global report just issued by the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) based on data from over 560,000 healthcare facilities in 125 countries. These conclusions reinforce a landmark 2018 report of 129,000 facilities, which found 66 percent of healthcare facilities lacked soap and running water, 50 percent lacked piped water, and 33 percent lacked basic toilet facilities.

“Providing safe water and sanitation facilities at health centers impacts the whole community and needs to include the whole community to be successful,” said Rick Santos, senior advisor at Lutheran World Relief and IMA World Health. “It begins to influence water and sanitation practices in the communities served by the health facility, leading to a stronger health system and a healthier population. Extreme poverty can only end when a community is healthy."

This high-level FBO convening of 65 leaders and experts included FBOs representing Catholic, Evangelical, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist organizations, alongside representatives from the Vatican, Africa Christian Health Associations (CHA), World Bank, U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Department of State, USAID and private funders. The meeting was closed to the public to facilitate open discussion of perspectives, challenges, priorities and sustainable solutions. [Interviews are available upon request.]

Among the participants:

Vatican representative, Tebaldo Vinciguerra, Official of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, underscored the dicastery's recent call to prioritize schools and “healthcare centres (hospitals, clinics, outpatient dispensaries) owned and managed by the Catholic Church" and its call for measures “to be taken aimed at improving the aforementioned elements wherever needed, for example: the construction of infrastructure, the sharing of technology, the development and updating of procedures."

Peter Yeboah, who represents 41 network organizations in 32 sub-Saharan countries as the Chairman of Africa Christian Health Association Platform (ACHAP), traveled from Ghana to attend. ACHAP has started evaluating dozens of healthcare facilities within its network:

“We have realized that our mission of improving equitable access to quality healthcare cannot be attained without integrating WASH in our healthcare system. There’s a growing WASH consciousness that is resonating amongst our staff, patients and the communities we serve. I believe it is time to harness the enormous interests, expertise and experiences available to enable our healthcare facilities to be WASH compliant. We recognize that the risk of missing this opportunity means settling into a tolerance of the status quo, with adverse consequences on health outcomes. Therefore, ACHAP will continue to model, implement and scale up sustainable WASH in our healthcare facilities, as our contribution towards achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in sub-Saharan Africa.”

CEO of U.S.-based Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB) Bruce Wilkinson, said, “Insufficient clean water and sanitation in healthcare facilities threaten the most vulnerable among us: pregnant women and newborns. The most basic requirement is safe access to enough clean water and to improved sanitation facilities—because without these building blocks, every other healthcare investment we make is undermined. Proven, cost-effective solutions are available, but implementing them will require that multiple sectors work together. It is time for global leaders to make this collaboration happen. Lives are at stake. The faith-based health facilities are willing and are key to providing clean water and sanitation.”

“There are many serious global health problems, but none more serious — and solvable,” said David Douglas of Global Water 2020, a non-partisan advocacy organization dedicated to accelerating progress toward water access and security for all. “Safe WASH inside healthcare facilities is the foundation of public health. Organizations in this room have all the usual reasons that secular organizations have for responding — from epidemiological to economic to humanitarian — they also have the additional one: a religious call to alleviate suffering of the most vulnerable, and there are few places of greater vulnerability than to be sick and poor, or a woman giving birth, in a hospital without safe WASH.”

More information is also available at the newly launched World Health Organization website: http://www.WASHinHCF.org.