WaterAid has launched its new four-year “Healthy Start” campaign showing the devastating impact that a lack of safe water and sanitation has on the health of children in developing countries. This was during activities to mark World Water Day, 2015.
The briefing “Healthy Start: the first month of life” shows that annually nearly 500,000 babies die in the first month of life because they are born into unhygienic conditions and one in five deaths of newborn babies in the developing world are caused by infections strongly linked to dirty water or unhygienic conditions. In Nigeria, nearly 52,000 newborn babies died from sepsis, tetanus and other infections linked to dirty water and lack of hygiene in 2013 alone.
A recently released World Health Organization report reveals that nearly half of hospitals and clinics in Africa do not have access to clean water. And of the 58% of healthcare facilities that have some access, only half are able to count on a safe and reliable supply of clean water. Over a third (35%) of hospitals and clinics did not have anywhere for staff or patients to wash their hands with soap.
Dr. Michael Ojo, WaterAid Nigeria’s Country Representative said: “The links between dirty hands, dirty water and infant mortality have been known for over 150 years.Being born into unhygienic conditions condemns too many babies in the Nigeria and the developing world to a tragically early and avoidable death and their parents to needless heartbreak. Tragically for these one in five babies who die in their first month in the developing world, just being washed in clean water and cared for in a clean environment by people who had washed their hands could have prevented their untimely deaths”.
In Nigeria almost a third (29%) of hospitals and clinics do not have access to clean water and the same percentage do not have safe toilets. One woman in every 23 will on average lose a baby to infection during her lifetime compared to one in 7,518 in the UK.
The goal for “Healthy Start” is that decision leaders and policy makers ensure that survival rates and health outcomes are improved for children by integrating water, sanitation and hygiene within their policies, activities and rhetoric. The aim is also that the health sector joins with the water and sanitation sector in delivering water, sanitation and hygiene for all by 2030 as an essential requirement for increasing the numbers of children who have healthy childhoods, better prospects for healthy lives and for leaving poverty behind.
According to Dr Ojo, “The ability to keep a hospital or clinic clean is such a fundamental basic requirement of health care that you have to question whether a facility without clean running water or basic sanitation can adequately serve its patients. We want the global community to commit to ensuring everyone has access to safe water and sanitation by 2030 – which is an ambitious target but an achievable target. But within that commitment, we want to see healthcare facilities prioritised – no new hospitals or clinics should be built without water and sanitation”.
In Nigeria, nearly 100,000 children under the age of five die of diarrhea every year as a result of the nation’s poor levels of access to water and sanitation, making it the second biggest child killer. Sub-Saharan Africa ranks lowest in the world for access to improved drinking water and sanitation. This is invariably linked to the region’s under-five mortality rate which is one of the highest in the world.
The global theme for World Water Day this year is ‘Water and Sustainable Development’.