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Centers of infection: Healthcare centers must run where water does not

WASHINGTON — Following the first-ever global report on the widespread lack of water, toilets, and hygiene inside hospitals and health clinics, leaders from the world’s largest Faith-Based Organizations (FBO) assembled this week for a historic meeting to address this fundamental threat to global health.

FBOs are the leading providers of healthcare in the developing world, running upwards of 50% of facilities in some regions, second only to governments. USAID’s Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives and Global Water 2020 hosted.

From preventing antibiotic resistance and superbugs, to containing pandemics like Ebola and cholera, the need for water/sanitation/hygiene (WASH) is indisputable. But no one is more vulnerable than a newborn. Every year, 17 million women in developing countries give birth in facilities without adequate WASH. One million deaths annually are associated with unclean births; preventable infections account for 26% of neonatal and 11% of maternal deaths.

This high-level convening of 65 leaders and experts included FBOs representing Catholic, Evangelical, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist organizations, alongside representatives from the Vatican, African Christian Health Associations, World Bank, CDC, Department of State, USAID and private funders. The meeting was closed to the public to facilitate discussion of challenges, priorities and sustainable solutions. [Quotes can be found here; interviews available upon request.]

These leaders united to combat this global problem, as persistent as it is dangerous. Two billion people are impacted by healthcare facilities without basic water services and 1.5 billion people are impacted by healthcare facilities without sanitation, according to the new global report by the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP), based on data from over 560,000 healthcare facilities in 125 countries. These conclusions reinforce a landmark 2018 report of 129,000 facilities, which found 66 percent lacked soap and running water, 50 percent lacked piped water, 33 percent lacked basic toilet facilities.

“There are many serious global health problems, but none more serious — and solvable,” said David Douglas of Global Water 2020, a non-partisan water advocacy organization. “Safe WASH inside healthcare facilities is the foundation of public health. Organizations in this room have all the usual reasons that secular organizations have for responding — from epidemiological to economic to humanitarian — plus their religious call to alleviate suffering of the most vulnerable, and there are few places of greater vulnerability than to be sick and poor, or a woman giving birth, in a facility without safe WASH.”

More information at the newly launched WHO website and faithsforsafewater.org.

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