African govts urged to invest in access to water

African governments have been entreated to invest in access to water for health facilities as the world grapples with containing the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the pandemic had exposed the level of inequality in accessing the resource, hence the need to accelerate efforts at long term solutions to sustainably increase access on the continent.

“This year, as we battle the COVID-19 pandemic, the life-saving importance of clean hands has never been more prominent. COVID-19 is shining a light on inequities in access to basic services, and we have an opportunity now to improve access to water for vulnerable communities.

“I call on governments, private sector partners, innovators, scientists and communities, to invest in access to water for health facilities and households,” Dr Moeti charged on the occasion of this year’s Global Hand Hygiene Day.

The day, marked every May 5, mobilises people around the world to increase adherence to hand hygiene in health care facilities, thus protecting health care workers and patients from infections.

This year, the theme, “Save Lives: Clean your hands,” is aligned with the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, that aims at recognising nurses and midwives as front-line heroes who deserve acknowledgement and appreciation while highlighting their critical roles in infection prevention.

It also identifies that hand washing is one of the most effective actions you can take to reduce the spread of pathogens and prevent infections, including the COVID-19 virus thus, health workers and community members alike can play a role in preventing infections by practising regular and frequent hand washing.

Painting a picture of how scarce water is on the continent and its resulting impact on health, Dr Moeti observed that more than one in four healthcare facilities in Sub-Saharan Africa have no water service.

“An increasing number of facilities are producing alcohol-based hand rubs locally, but this is not a substitute for a safe, reliable water supply,” he stated.

According to Dr Moeti, access to water extends beyond health facilities to communities but “basic hand washing facilities with soap and water are available in less than 50 per cent of households in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

“Over the past 20 years, progress on access to water in Sub-Saharan Africa is mixed. The number of people using unimproved sources remained the same. The number using surface water decreased by one third and the number of people travelling 30 minutes or more roundtrip to collect water, more than doubled, and this burden fall mainly on women and girls,” he said.

The Regional Director, to this end, emphasized the urgent “need to scale-up access to water across the continent,” maintaining that, “clean hands save lives and safe water is essential in hand washing.”

“Together we can make access to safe water a reality for all Africans,” he added.

There are now more than 47,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the African continent with about 15,000 recoveries.

The death toll however, has now crossed 1,700 as many governments have put in place stringent measures to contain the spread of the disease.

BY ABIGAIL ANNOH

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