COVID-19 Pandemic Highlights Urgent Need for Access to Good Hand Hygiene

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By: Christian Conteh

According to the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) report titled- Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000 -2020, published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF in 2020, around 1 in 4 people lacked safely managed drinking water in their homes and nearly half the world’s population lacked safely managed sanitation.

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The ravaging COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgent need to ensure everyone can access good hand hygiene. At the onset of the pandemic, 3 in 10 people worldwide could not wash their hands with soap and water within their homes.

The report revealed that billions of people around the world will be unable to access safely managed household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene services in 2030 unless the rate of progress quadruples. It presents estimate on household access to safely managed drinking water, sanitation and hygiene services over the past five years, and assesses progress toward achieving the sixth sustainable development goal (SDG) to ‘Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030’.

“Handwashing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, yet millions of people across the world lack access to a reliable, safe supply of water. Investment in water, sanitation and hygiene must be a global priority if we are to end this pandemic and build more resilient health systems.” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

The report recognises the fact that some progress has been made towards achieving universal access to basic water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services.

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“Between 2016 and 2020, the global population with safely managed drinking water at home increased from 70% to 74%; safely managed sanitation services grew from 47% to 54%; and handwashing facilities with soap and water increased from 67% to 7%.” Statistics from the report reveals

It further establishes that for the first time in 2020, more people used improved on-site sanitation, such as pit latrines and septic tanks, which can effectively contain and treat waste, rather than sewer connections. There is need for governments to ensure adequate support for safely managed on-site sanitation, including faecal sludge management, the report suggests.

The report calls for urgent intervention in the WASH sector, indicating that if current trends persist, billions of children and families will be left without critical, life-saving WASH services.

The statistics presented by the report show that if urgent action is not taken by 2030 only 81% of the world’s population will have access to safe drinking water at home, leaving 1.6 billion without; only 67% will have safe sanitation services, leaving 2.8 billion without while only 78% will have basic handwashing facilities, leaving 1.9 billion without.

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The report also notes vast inequalities with vulnerable children and families suffering the most. To achieve universal access to safely managed drinking water by 2030. It points out that the current rate of progress in the Least Developed Countries would need to increase ten-fold.

“Even before the pandemic, millions of children and families were suffering without clean water, safe sanitation, and a place to wash their hands. Despite our impressive progress to date to scale-up these lifesaving services, the alarming and growing needs continue to outstrip our ability to respond. The time has come to dramatically accelerate our efforts to provide every child and family with the most basic needs for their health and well-being, including fighting off infectious diseases like COVID-19.” says Henrietta Fore UNICEF Executive Director.

The report notes that celebrating WASH coverage will require prioritization at the highest levels of decision making by international agencies, governments, civil society and the private sector. This is important in the context of the forthcoming mid-term review of the Water Action Decade in 2023

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