The Crisis

More than 2.6 million newborns died globally in 2015. More than 99% of these deaths occurred in developing countries. Tragically for the 1 in 5 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 helped prevent their untimely deaths.

In more than 66,000 health care facilities across 54 poor countries around the world:

  • 38% do not have improved water coverage
  • 19% do not have improved sanitation
  • 35% do not have water and soap for hand washing

WHO & UNICEF in 2015 reported that only 65% of health care facilities in Tanzania have water coverage. And over 30% of health care centres in Cambodia still do not have access to water.

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The results of lacking clean, safe water, sanitation and hygiene in health care facilities are devastating, or even deadly.

Expectant mums do not have a choice and are forced to walk to collect unsafe water.

Carry heavy loads of water puts them at high risk of miscarriage, early labour and uterine prolapse. Mirembe, Tanzania, says “I have had to go to the river many, many times…It’s very heavy and the bucket is also very heavy, so of course I feel tired. I put the bucket on my head. I carry 10 litres at a time…”

© WaterAid / Anna Kari

Sanitation and hygiene are often inadequate and poor when there is no clean water in the health care facilities.

In Cambodia, the only water supply at Dr Voeun’s hospital is from a contaminated well. The water has a high content of arsenic. There is only one toilet for patients. He says, “The toilet is smelly and give patients headaches. Soap is also not available for people to clean their hands.”

© WaterAid/Tom Greenwood

Without access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene, doctors, midwives and birth attendants are unable to provide safe care for patients.

Zambian midwife Mary explains, “We know that we are supposed to wash our hands thoroughly before attending to another patient, but what do you do in a situation where there is no running water.”

© WaterAid/Anna Kari

Newborn babies die of preventable infections.

The first 28 days are the most vulnerable time of a child’s life – he or she is 15 times more likely to die than at any other point in the first year of life. In Tanzania 20% of newborn deaths are caused by sepsis and other infections. The equivalent morality rates in Cambodia and Australia are 17% and 2.7% respectively.

© WaterAid/Anna Kari

Khadija was discharged from hospital after 24 hours, but says her baby boy, Kephasi, died from umbilical sepsis a few days later, a condition can be caused by washing the area with dirty water. “When we came back from hospital, we slept – the next day the baby started to be sick. He was crying the whole night and had a high fever. The wound of the belly button had some puss…  I saw my baby had already closed his eyes and I called a woman nearby. I told the woman please help… The woman came and told me my baby had already passed away.”

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