WaterAid calls for funding to bolster health systems in the world’s poorest countries

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 7 April 2021:

Today is World Health Day, and a new analysis by WaterAid shows that every single healthcare centre in the world’s poorest countries could have taps and toilets for just half-an-hour’s worth of Covid response spending.

As G20 finance ministers meet this week in Rome to discuss how they will build back from the pandemic, WaterAid is urging global leaders to commit to new funding of at least $1.2 billion, to ensure all hospitals and clinics, particularly within the world’s poorest countries, have clean water, decent toilets and proper handwashing facilities.

Since the onset of Covid-19, rich countries have spent significant sums, an average of nearly 10% of their GDP, and a total of $20.6 trillion, on stimulus packages to help bolster their economies and to recover from the pandemic.

Photo: Talo Health Centre ‘s matron Salimata Dagnoko collcting water at the near by water point, 32, Mali.

The sum needed, $1.2 billion, equates to just thirty minutes-worth of the past year’s spending. This investment would bring these vital frontline defenses against future pandemics to all healthcare facilities in the poorest nations.

Globally,1.8 billion people are at higher risk of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases because they use or work in a healthcare facility which lacks basic water services. Providing doctors, nurses and patients with somewhere to clean their hands is one of the most effective ways to halt the spread of disease.

And yet, one in four healthcare facilities has no clean water on site, one in three has no handwashing facilities at the point of care and one in ten has no decent toilets.

In the world’s poorest countries, the situation is even worse – half of all hospitals and clinics there have no clean water.

An essential injection of finance by the G20 would prevent millions of avoidable deaths through infections and diseases. Not only has research shown that washing hands with soap helps reduce the spread of coronaviruses by one third but it would also help curb the growth of antimicrobial resistance as antibiotics are too often used in unclean health facilities as a ‘quick fix’ in place of proper hygiene – Which is contributing to an increasingly alarming situation as antibiotics lose their power to fight infections.

According to the World Health Organization, investment of this nature would take just one year to pay for itself and produce savings for every dollar invested thereafter.

But an ever-growing debt crisis is preventing poorer countries from being able to invest into basic water services, with some countries paying billions of dollars in international debt service each year. Zambia, for example, paid over $2 billion in 2019, a staggering 11% of its Gross National Income and have since defaulted on their payments.

Pakistan paid a huge $11 billion in debt service in the same year – an amount which could pay for access to taps, toilets and handwashing facilities in hospitals across all of the least developed countries three times over. A huge 83% of people surveyed in Italy agreed that the richest countries and other private lenders should suspend debt repayments due from poorer governments.

A new global poll of over 18,000 adults across 15 countries including the UK, Brazil, Nigeria, India, Australia and the USA, commissioned by WaterAid and conducted by YouGov, reveals that three quarters (75%) of those surveyed believe that debt payments of the poorest countries (including to private sector creditors) should be suspended so that countries can invest more of their scarce resources into essentials like water and soap to help fight Covid-19 and other diseases.

Photo: Talo Health Centre ‘s matron Salimata Dagnoko, 32, Talo Health Centre, Mali.

While debt service to governments are currently suspended, this suspension will end in June of this year as the pandemic continues.  Even the extension of this suspension which the International Monetary Fund is currently calling for, which moves to include private sector lenders, will do little more than delay payments for countries struggling with unpayable debt.

True debt relief and restructuring, which the G20 can enact, would radically change the economic prospects of poorer nations. With the means to invest, countries can then make smart economic decisions that tackle the immediate crisis whilst also protecting against any future pandemics.

Tim Wainwright, WaterAid’s Chief Executive, said: “Spending at least £1.2 billion on water, sanitation and hygiene for healthcare centres is a no-brainer investment, both saving lives now and also protecting against future pandemics and the devastation they cause. This sum equates to just thirty minutes-worth of what has been spent over the last year on Covid response packages. Yet it could change everything for the millions who have no option but to seek care from the 50 per cent of health care facilities in the poorest countries which don’t have clean water.

“We must find the money needed as a matter of urgency, to make sure all healthcare facilities in the poorest countries have clean water and soap before another pandemic hits. If frontline health workers can’t wash their hands; keep patients clean; or have somewhere decent to go to the toilet, a hospital is not a hospital at all – it’s a breeding ground for disease.”


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