Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa made the call yesterday in her message to mark the World Hand Hygiene Day, which is commemorated every year, on May 5.
She said: “As we battle the Covid-19 pandemic, the life-saving importance of clean hands has never been more prominent.”
She noted that Covid-19 is shining a light on inequities in access to basic services and we have an opportunity to improve access to water for vulnerable communities.
“We can protect ourselves and our families by frequently wash our hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub. Hand hygiene, along with physical distancing, respiratory etiquette and disinfecting surfaces are the basic preventive measures for a range of diseases, including Covid-19. In this context, several African countries are providing water to communities free-of-charge as part of the national response, so that more people can wash their hands,” she said.
In celebration of the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, this theme of World Hand Hygiene Day 2020 is “nurses and midwives, clean care is in your hands” because infection prevention and control, including hand hygiene, is important in all settings. It is especially important in health-care facilities as part of ensuring quality patient care.
“At WHO, we are working with countries, the World Food Programme and other partners to ensure health workers have essential supplies, such as personal protective equipment, including gloves. In recent weeks, we delivered replenishment to more than 50 African countries.”
She said that WHO is also working with sub-regional nursing associations and other partners and have trained more than 3000 health workers via interactive virtual seminars, including demonstrating good hand hygiene.
“However, working with partners, we urgently need to scale-up access to water across the continent. In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than one in four health-care facilities 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.”
Dr Moeti added that the limited access extends beyond health facilities to communities. Basic hand-washing facilities with soap and water are available in less than 50 percent of households in Sub-Saharan Africa. In response to Covid-19, more and more hand-washing points are being set-up, and we need to look at longer-term solutions to sustainably increase access.
She noted that 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. The number of people travelling 30 minutes or more round trip to collect water, more than doubled, and this burden falls mainly on women and girls.