World leaders commit to safer births and cleaner conditions in all hospitals

4 min read
Midwife Parboti Rani Dhali, 45, holds baby of mother, Shokla Mondol, 19, at Dacope Upazila Health Complex, Chalna, Dacope, Khulna, Bangladesh, May 2017
Image: WaterAid/ Al Shahriar Rupam

All 194 United Nations member states have committed to a Resolution calling on every health care facility on earth to have access to water, sanitation and hygiene.

This Resolution, which passed at the 72nd World Health Assembly in Geneva last week, comes after years of advocacy from WaterAid and strong Australian leadership and is global recognition that these vital services are a priority for all health care centres in every country.

This landmark decision will mean mothers and babies all over the world will be safer when giving birth at health care facilities like hospitals, while patients, caregivers and health workers will have a lower risk of getting infections. Clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene at healthcare facilities will also contribute to the prevention of cholera, diarrhea, and other deadly diseases.

“Put simply, a hospital is not a hospital without a reliable supply of clean water,” WaterAid Australia’s Technical Lead in Health Alison Macintyre said. “A hospital without clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene is a breeding ground for infections and until every health care facility has these three basics, superbugs will continue to thrive, mothers and babies will continue to be put at risk and the international community will fail on its promise of universal healthcare. For too long this unacceptable situation has been tacitly accepted – today that stops.”

Macintyre led WaterAid’s delegation at the conference and gave a powerful statement explaining why this issue is so fundamentally important.

“It is time to stop accepting the unacceptable,” Macintyre’s statement began. “Almost 900 million people must seek care at health facilities with no water, 1.5 billion people must seek care where no toilets are available and almost half of facilities do not have hand hygiene stations at points of care.”

“Without immediate action, targets on antimicrobial resistance, maternal and newborn health and universal health coverage will not be met.” Macintyre continued. Her full statement can be read here.

Shortly after Macintyre’s statement, the Resolution was officially adopted.

In the lead up to the conference, WaterAid Australia played a pivotal role in making this Resolution possible, using our programming and policy research examples to drive leadership and commitment on this issue. Through our relationships with governments around the world, we also helped harness support from other member states to ensure the Resolution passed.

The Resolution, which was championed by Zambia, Tanzania and eSwatini, states that “without sufficient and safe water, sanitation and hygiene in health care facilities, countries will not achieve the targets set out in Sustainable Development Goal 3 (Ensure healthy lives and promote health and well-being for all at all ages) and Goal 6 (Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all)”.

It also noted that these improvements to health care facilities will contribute to four other Sustainable Development Goals: 1 (No Poverty); 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy); 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities); and 13 (Climate Action). These goals are part of a blueprint created by the United Nations on how to achieve a better and sustainable future for everyone on earth by 2030.

Sustainable Development Goals

The “Resolution on water, sanitation and hygiene in health care facilities” provides a framework for countries to take action on the standard of facilities available in health care centres, as well as giving them accountability to act.

WaterAid’s next steps will be to work with countries to support them in implementing the Resolution actions, and hold them to account to achieving them.

“This is a pivotal moment,” Macintyre said. “Ministers must now act swiftly to put in place the financing to implement the resolution for water, sanitation and hygiene in health care facilities.”

Throughout the conference, experts from WaterAid’s delegation delivered eight official statements on the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene in healthcare facilities, which can be read here, and co-hosted two side events. The full coverage of WaterAid’s activities, including our research and reports, can read at