WaterAid warns of slow progress in access to handwashing for all

A lady washes her hands during the Global Handwashing Day held at Amref University, Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina,Standard]

WaterAid East Africa has warned of worrying about slow progress in access to handwashing for all.

In a press statement to celebrate Global Handwashing Day, the NGO said there is a need for governments across the world to make an urgent investment to provide handwashing for all as it plays a critical role in the fight against preventable diarrhoeal diseases and respiratory infections.

The NGO said the latest estimates from WHO and UNICEF indicate that three in 10 people worldwide cannot wash with soap and water at home, and at current rates of progress, 1.9 billion people, families and children will still be unable to do so by 2030.

It said for everyone to be able to wash their hands at home by 2030, one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, governments need to make progress at least four times faster than they currently are.

Regional Director of WaterAid in East Africa Olutayo Bankole-Bolawole said promoting Handwashing has proven to be cost-effective.

“Investments in health, education, and improved water supply are all jeopardised if handwashing with soap is not included in national development plans,” she said.

According to her, in East Africa, WaterAid has partnered with national and local governments in enhancing access to hand hygiene in public places such as schools, hospitals, and markets.

“More recently, we worked with national Governments, WASH networks and the East Africa Community (EAC) to construct WASH facilities in six border points across the region, which has been critical in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

Olutayo said it is imperative that the East African Community should not wait for another pandemic to hit before investing in the health and well-being of their people and economies through effective budgeting for Hygiene behaviour change and access to clean water and soap.

Her sentiments were echoed by Claire Seaward, WaterAid’s Global Campaigns Director who said as the G20 prepare to gather, it’s time governments and donors pay attention to the fact that an investment in water, sanitation and hygiene is a life-saving investment in future health and economic prosperity.

These simple, but essential facilities she said have been side-lined for far too long, their value overlooked, crippling economies and trapping millions especially women and girls in poverty and poor health.

“Now is the time for action. Governments need to kickstart behaviour change, set out clear roadmaps for achieving hand hygiene for everyone by 2030, and ringfence the financing to achieving it,” she said.

Seaward added, “Partnerships with businesses will be crucial to strengthening supply chains for hygiene products and services. Donors need to rapidly increase their financial support in low and middle-income countries, recognising the critical role that hand hygiene has in pandemic preparedness and addressing anti-microbial resistance.” 

The two said it is unfortunate the economic value of handwashing for all, alongside water and sanitation services, is vastly underestimated by governments, businesses and donors, resulting in chronic under-investment. 

According to them, investing in water, sanitation and hygiene brings multiple wins for governments as it is value for money, it helps achieve health targets and it increases productivity to support economic growth.

The NGO said the provision of basic water services could save women and girls the equivalent of 77 million working days per year that they currently spend on fetching water, increasing their life and work options and greatly contributing towards gender equality.

“Good hygiene can reduce diarrhoeal and respiratory diseases at low cost, improving people’s health, reducing the costs of healthcare and freeing up people’s productive time,” read part of the statement.

It said achieving universal access to hygiene services by 2040 could prevent 96 million cases of diarrhoeal disease and 160 million respiratory infections each year which equate to less than $10 USD spent to avoid each case.



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