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Healthy Start logoHealthy Start is WaterAid’s four-year campaign focused on improving the health and nutrition of newborn babies and children.

In 2014, over 2.6 million babies died in their first four weeks of life. This is overwhelmingly a problem of the developing world – with over 99% of neonatal deaths occurring in low and middle income countries.

Tragically for 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 2013, four babies died every five minutes in Sub-Saharan Africa or Southern Asia from highly preventable causes such as sepsis, meningitis or tetanus – all infections strongly linked to unhygienic conditions. Research shows that by ensuring that every baby is given a Healthy Start, the risk of contracting those infections falls dramatically. In one study it was shown that if a mother and birth attendant both wash their hands, a baby’s chance of dying in the first month more than halved.

Peggy Mpundu 36, of Mwasha Village in Lubwe, Zambia, recently lost twins to a suspected infection just four days after their birth.

It is hard to imagine that there is any medical professional, health department official or health minister who is unaware of the risks of exposing babies to infection due to unclean birth conditions and poor hygiene practices. And yet, women are still giving birth in environments which do not have clean water, soap and sanitation, attended by carers who cannot or do not observe basic hygiene.

A WHO and UNICEF study of 66,000 health facilities across 54 low- and middle-income countries revealed:

  • 38% of health facilities did not have an improved water source.
  • 19% did not have improved sanitation.
  • 35% did not water and soap for handwashing.

The consequences are all too often tragic – a women in Sierra Leone has a one in 21 chance of losing a baby to sepsis during her lifetime. The equivalent risk in the UK is one in 7,518.

WaterAid wants everyone, everywhere to have access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene by 2030. We believe that all healthcare facilities must be equipped with water and sanitation facilities as a matter of urgency, and health systems must be held to account for ensuring these standards are met.

Find out more in our briefing Healthy Start: the first month of life >

For more information about Healthy Start please contact [email protected] >