When it comes to stopping a pandemic – be it COVID-19 or infectious Disease X sometime in the future – we are only as strong as the weakest link. And there is a clear weak link that few recognize and appreciate: the lack of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) in healthcare facilities across the developing world.
Pandemics specialize in beating efforts to control them, especially at critical sites. Perhaps no place is more critical than any given healthcare facility where there is the greatest density of pathogens and the greatest volume of sick people.
The unappreciated reality is that at a time when we are bombarded with the message to “wash your hands,” healthcare workers and patients in healthcare facilities often cannot perform that simple act. WASH is the foundation of healthcare.
However, one in four healthcare facilities lacks basic water, one in five lacks sanitation, and two in five lack hand hygiene materials at points of care. That leaves a massive “catchment area” of two billion people who must rely on these inadequate facilities for their healthcare. This situation is always deeply troubling and especially problematic during a pandemic.
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