Campaigning for better WASH in health care facilities

WHO is launching a global plan of action to improve access to WASH at all health care facilities. This kind of intersectoral collaboration is set to become a major theme in the post-2015 development agenda.

Maternity ward, Gazipur, Bangladesh

Maternity ward, Gazipur, Bangladesh. © DFATD-MAECD/Wendell Phillips.

Better access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in health care facilities is crucial for mothers and babies to stay healthy. It is just as important as curative measures says Dr Maria Neira, the Director of Public Health and Environment at the World Health Organization (WHO) [1]. She announced that WHO will launch a global plan of action by March 2015 on improving access to WASH at all health care facilities [2].

In December 2014, a group of academics and representatives from WASH and maternal and newborn health (MNH) agencies, including WHO, presented a call to action for intersectoral collaboration [3]. They backed up their call with recent SHARE-funded research, which found that less than a third of births in Tanzania take place in a setting with safe water and sanitation [4]. Forthcoming WHO research surveyed health care facilities in 54 low-income countries and found that 38 percent did not have an improved water source, while 50 percent lacked improved sanitation [2].

Back in 2012, Simavi commissioned IRC to carry out a review of how access to safe water, sanitation and application of hygiene practices can affect maternal health [5]. The review concluded that “some very basic elements of human development related to water, sanitation and hygiene that were accepted in the 19th and early 20th centuries are still unavailable to a large proportion of pregnant women in the 21st century”.

Embedding WASH in other sectors will increase the health, social and economic benefits of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). An international group of WASH NGOs, led by Simavi and IRC, launched a call in December 2014 to incorporate WASH targets for schools, health centres and the workplace in the post-2015 development agenda.[6].

This all contributes to the growing realisation that “access to WASH facilities at home is simply not enough to achieve complete behavioural change and sustainable impact” [7]. Intersectoral collaboration is set to become a major theme for the global development sector in the future.


[1] Better WASH = healthier mums and babies, SHARE, 17 Dec 2014

[2] Jóźwiak, G. Get ‘back to basics’ on WASH, Devex, 12 Jan 2015

[3] Velleman Y, et al., 2014. From joint thinking to joint action : a call to action on improving water, sanitation, and hygiene for maternal and newborn health. PLoS Med,11(12): e1001771. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001771

[4] Benova, L, et al, 2014. Where there is no toilet : water and sanitation environments of domestic and facility births in Tanzania. PLoS ONE, 9(9): e106738. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0106738

[5] Shordt, K. and Smet, E., 2012. Getting it right : improving maternal health through water, sanitation and hygiene. Simavi: Haarlem, The Netherlands. Available at:

[6] Terpstra, J. Shouldn’t schools and work places have clean water and decent sanitation too?. IRC, 8 Dec 2014

[7] IRC, 2014. The need for water and sanitation in schools, health centres and at the workplace. Available at:

Originally published on the IRC website on 19 January 2015

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