The WaterAid Oscars

5 min read
Image: Flickr/Prayitno

Next Monday the world’s attention will once again turn to Los Angeles as the 91st Academy Awards are presented to some of the world’s most famous names.

But before that ceremony takes place, I’d like to host an Oscars ceremony of my own, bringing attention to a few people you’ve probably never heard of.

The recipients of these ‘WaterAid Oscars’, so to speak, are people who have inspired me and the rest of the organisation over the past year. These awards showcase the work WaterAid is doing that is bringing about change at a global, national and very human level.

I’d like to begin with an award very close to my heart, the award for Most Outstanding Female.

This award goes to Mercy Masoo, the Country Director of WaterAid in Malawi, for showing the sort of leadership we need for change and tackling the complex problems that face us.

Mercy Masoo

Mercy was one a handful of leaders in Malawi that did a ‘Sleepover challenge’, in which she stayed overnight in a maternity ward in a rural part of the country.

The challenge was to shine a light on the massive challenge that the health system faces in Malawi and get action.

So, among others, she spent a night in a maternity ward in a rural health centre serving 18,000 people, based in Ntchisi district. Simply making the journey there was a nightmare with rough roads making the ride bumpy and uncomfortable. But Mercy was healthy; imagine that same journey for pregnant women, sick people, and the elderly.

Arriving at the health centre, Mercy and others learnt some salient facts. For instance, there was an 84% vacancy rate of staff, and there were just 3 doctors for the whole district of 315,000.

Spending the night in the maternity ward was confronting to say the least. While the electricity didn’t go out as it normally does, there were no beds in the ward where the nurses were on duty. A woman named Blessings took care of the women, when they went into labour or needed an examination. Blessings would give her hands a cursory wash with water that certainly wasn’t drinkable and she certainly didn’t have soap. The health centre also didn’t have proper sanitation facilities.

As the group staying there concluded, “it was a breeding ground for infection”.

Throughout Mercy’s description I could feel her fear, her vulnerability and her desire to do more.

I’ve decided to recognise Mercy Masoo for this because this is what our work is all about – bringing to light where we need action and then bringing together partners to affect that action. In this case the WaterAid team in Malawi worked with partners, health workers and journalists to get action from the government to change these conditions in health care centres across Malawi.

The next award I’d like to present is for the Most Outstanding Male. And I’d like to present this to Daniel Paulo, the midwife.

Daniel the midwife
Image: WaterAid/ Ernest Randriarimalala

This is one of my favourite pictures – he is holding one of the first babies to be born safely after WaterAid helped install a safe water supply, toilets, waste disposal and handwashing facilities at the hospital.

“All the pregnant women now have water to use here during their stay. God bless you!” Daniel said.

Before this at Kiomboi hospital in Tanzania, expectant mothers and their families had to fetch unsafe water from a nearby unprotected well.

The toilets were broken and hygiene was poor, nowhere to dispose of waste, exposing mothers and newborns to infection.

The final award I’d like to present is for the Best Original Screenplay, an award that recognises the most outstanding script. I am delighted to award this to the Australian Government delegation at the recent World Health Assembly Board meeting.


The 93-second script they delivered highlighted the Australian government’s recognition of the important work being done to improve water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities in healthcare facilities. They have taken a leadership role in bringing about change by supporting a global Resolution that will provide a roadmap for countries worldwide to take action.

The Australian Government has taken action through funding the World Health Organization to tackle WASH in healthcare facilities in the Asia Pacific region, as well as ground-breaking programs WaterAid is undertaking in Myanmar (which you can read more about here) and Cambodia (here).

This is such an exciting result of our advocacy work over the past few years. It was only a few years ago that global action commenced on WASH in healthcare facilities when the first global data were made available. Through advocating for action at global, national and local levels, we have seen change for mothers seeking a safe place to deliver their newborns and at the global level – this is a result of that advocacy. And while it’s not the end of the course – as there still is a lot more work to do – it’s a great result.

Having clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene in all healthcare facilities is a fundamental tenet of universal health coverage and well-functioning health systems. This is an example of our work at a global level.

The transcript of the Australian Government’s statement at the World Health Organization’s 144th Executive Board meeting can be read below:

Australia welcomes the Director General’s report on water, sanitation and hygiene in healthcare facilities and the priority given to this issue under his leadership. We commend the development indicators and the global work plan and architecture to progress action on WASH in healthcare facilities. We would welcome future advice from the Secretariat on the respective roles and responsibilities of WHO and other development partners, the makeup of the advisory group being established to provide strategic direction and review, and how implementation of the plan will be funded. We look forward to the upcoming release of the first global baseline report on WASH in healthcare facilities through the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program for water supply, sanitation and hygiene. Australia has been a long-term partner of WHO in improving water quality in the Indo-Pacific region through water safety planning and we are pleased to be able to contribute to the global response in supporting WASH in healthcare facilities including through a new five-year $5 million partnership with WHO and support to civil society organisations and research partners through the Water for Women fund.

Australia Government Intervention, 144th Executive Board Meeting of WHO, Geneva Agenda item 6.6 Water, sanitation and hygiene in health care facilities, 30th January 2019