Half of developing world health clinics without piped water, study finds

Posted by
Emily Haile
25 January 2018
Tanzania, Health, Maternal health
  • Research reveals major gaps in water, sanitation and hygiene

  • WaterAid calls for urgent action to deliver water, sanitation and hygiene to hospitals

Health and water are intrinsically linked: we cannot deliver health coverage to all with hospitals that don't have water, sanitation, hygiene, and good waste management.
Lisa Schechtman, U.S. Director of Policy and Advocacy, WaterAid

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New York, NY — WaterAid has called for urgent action to ensure all health centers around the world have access to clean water, decent sanitation, and good hygiene, in response to a new study that reveals only half of healthcare facilities in low- and middle-income countries have access to piped water.

The study – by Ryan Cronk and Jamie Bartram at the Water Institute of the University of North Carolina, published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health - examines the environmental conditions in nearly 130,000 healthcare facilities across 78 low- and middle-income countries, offering the most comprehensive analysis to date of inequalities in the provision of adequate healthcare.

According to the findings, half (50%) of healthcare facilities surveyed lack access to piped water while a third (33%) are without access to improved toilets, and even more (39%) do not have facilities for washing hands with soap. A sampling of six countries showed only 2% of facilities are able to provide a combination of piped water, improved toilets, decent handwashing facilities and adequate waste management services.

WaterAid warns that without these basic facilities - the cornerstones of quality and safe healthcare – patients and health workers are at greater risk of infection, disease and even death, with new mothers and their babies at particular risk. Every minute, a newborn dies from infections caused by a lack of safe water and an unclean environment, despite the links between poor hygiene practices, dirty water and infant mortality being in the public consciousness for over 150 years. 

In Tanzania, for instance, only 32 percent of healthcare facilities have access to the most basic level of water access, only seven percent have piped to sewer sanitation services and over a third (34%) lack handwashing facilities.

In Geita, a remote region in northern Tanzania, water and sanitation access is the worst in the country. Working in a clinic here can mean a mile-long walk to a dirty riverbed to collect water for cleaning and sterilizing equipment, or paying the equivalent of a half-day’s wages to purchase water of poor quality from a street vendor.

For 39-year-old, Salome, giving birth in such dire conditions resulted in tragedy when her baby girl, Margaret, died from a suspected infection. She was just three days old.

WaterAid is working in the community to improve these conditions.

Salome explains:

“The baby started to have a very high fever. So we went to get grippe water and paracetamol syrup, but it didn't work. The fever continued to be very high. The next day we brought the baby back to the health center. They took a blood and urine sample but could find nothing wrong.

“The midwife that delivered, the doctor and lab technician came to discuss what to do because the fever would not come down. He was given glucose syrup and I was given a prescription. My husband took it to town to get it and I went to the houses nearby to wait. But before my husband got back with the medicine, the baby died. The baby was so hot it took three hours to cool down after it died.”

WaterAid's U.S. Director of Policy and Advocacy Lisa Schechtman said:

"Health and water are intrinsically linked: we cannot deliver health coverage to all with hospitals that don't have water, sanitation, hygiene, and good waste management. The U.S. Government, through its recent Global Water Strategy, has committed to leadership in closing this gap. We look forward to working with USAID, the Centers for Disease Control and Congress to ensure this promise results in lives saved."


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In the U.S.:

Emily Haile, Senior Communications and Media Manager, [email protected]