From Holby to health centres in Ghana: How clean water saves lives. By actress Amanda Mealing

3 min read
WaterAid supporter Amanda Mealing  stands in the waiting room at the Paga Health Centre in Ghana.
Image: WaterAid/ Eliza Powell

One in three health centres in the world’s poorest countries have no clean water, and one in five have no decent toilets. It’s shocking to think that the very places that should be improving people’s health cannot prevent the spread of disease.

How do staff cope without being able to wash their hands or equipment? And where do patients go when they need the toilet or water? I visited Ghana to find out.

I went to a paediatric ward in Paga in Kassena-Nankana in the north of the country. It was only built a year ago and was well-run with fantastic doctors and nurses. But one very vital thing was missing; there were no toilets. As a result, young children with diseases like malaria, sepsis and diarrhoea are relieving themselves on the ground outside the ward. 

“It is filthy, and smelly and it breeds flies,” Dr Didier Oteng told me. “When it’s rainy, it’s even more of a problem. They are facilitating the spread of disease.”

The staff are convinced the unhygienic environment is causing the spread of infection, meaning children can come in with one disease and leave with another. 

WaterAid supporter Amanda Mealing watches as Midwife Faustina Sedjoah, carries out a prenatal checkup on an expectant mother at the Katiu CHPS Health Centre in Ghana
Amanda with Midwife Faustina Sedjoah carrying out a prenatal checkup on expectant mother Azuma at Katiu CHPS Health Centre, Ghana
Image: WaterAid/ Eliza Powell

Poor sanitation and hygiene along with dirty water is a killer. Every single day, around 800 children worldwide from related diarrhoeal diseases, and nearly half a million babies die in their first month of life each year because they are born into unhygienic conditions. These deaths are entirely preventable.

In nearby Katiu Community Health Centre, the lack of water means the staff have to walk to a borehole up to 10 times a day, wasting precious time that would be better spent looking after patients. They still don’t have enough water to keep the environment, equipment or even their hands clean. 

Amanda and Midwife Faustina pump water near the Katiu CHPS Health Centre.
WaterAid supporter Amanda Mealing (L) helps Midwife Faustina Sedjoah (back), aged 36, pump water near the Katiu CHPS Health Centre, Katiu Community, Kassena Nankana West District, Upper East Region, G
Image: WaterAid/ Eliza Powell

Faustina, the midwife, was close to tears as she told me the frustrations she feels as a medical professional who cannot provide the quality of care she strives for because she lacks such basic things as clean water and toilets. I had such admiration for the healthcare staff I met – for their passion and determination in the face of such challenges. It’s just not right that they should have to deal with such difficulties when the solution is so simple.

WaterAid supporter Amanda Mealing (R) walks with Midwife Faustina Sedjoah (L), aged 36, after collecting water for the Katiu CHPS Health Centre, Katiu Community, Kassena Nankana West District, Upper East Region, Ghana. February 2019.
Amanda walks with Midwife Faustina collecting water for the Katiu CHPS Health Centre.
Image: WaterAid/ Eliza Powell

I saw the amazing impact clean water and toilets can have when I visited Busongo Community Health Centre. Here, WaterAid has provided clean piped water, available on tap 24 hours a day, as well as flushing toilets for staff and patients, and showers for new mothers.

Florence, the midwife there, told me: “Having the facilities in the health centre means it’s very easy to get water, to wash, and to go to the toilet. It’s also easier for us to demonstrate handwashing and remind our clients about the importance of maintaining good hygiene. I can do my job better and the clients are happier and healthier.” 

WaterAid supporter Amanda Mealing (R) washes her hands alongside Midwife Florence Anyoka (L) at the Busongo Community Health Centre, Busongo Community, Kassena Nankana West District, Upper East Region, Ghana. February 2019.
Amanda washes her hands alongside Midwife Florence Anyoka at the Busongo Community Health Centre.
Image: WaterAid/Eliza Powell

And WaterAid’s work hasn’t just benefitted the health centre, they have also improved the community water point so it can serve six people at any one time rather than just one, reducing the time people spend queuing so they can focus on other priorities, like going to school and earning a living. It really has transformed the whole community. WaterAid is also working with families there to help them build household toilets, which will lead to further health benefits.

Clean water, good sanitation and hygiene have the power to transform lives. That’s the water effect and that’s why I’m supporting WaterAid’s work in health centres, schools and homes across the world, to help build a better future for communities around the world.