When Water Doesn’t Flow: Why Lack of Water Matters in Healthcare Facilities. PLoS Global Health Blog, June 29, 2017.
Why Lack of Water Matters in Healthcare Facilities
Water, as well as the availability of sanitation and hygiene infrastructure, are essential to providing safe, quality healthcare. Without water, surfaces remain unclean and medical equipment cannot be sterilized. Water shortages within healthcare facilities are particularly concerning when thinking about the water needed for surgery or in maternity units.
When water does not flow from the piped water supply within the hospital, jerry cans (the yellow containers shown) are used to collect water from a nearby lake
According to the World Health Organization’s Essential Environmental Health Standards in Health Care, 100 liters of water are needed per medical intervention preformed in healthcare facilities. As an example, if one hospital in Ghana reported that 138 babies were born in one month then 13,800 liters of water would be needed to ensure safe delivery of all babies. Based on my experiences as a researcher and a patient in a rural Ghana hospital, meeting this requirement would be virtually impossible.
During my hospitalization, water did not flow through the pipes within the hospital and the donated water treatment system was not operating due to water scarcity and intermittent power in the region.
The lack of water sparked a series of managerial decisions, which in turn affected patients’ access to toilets and handwashing facilities, which led to clinical staffing shortages. Without adequate water in the hospital, management locked the bathrooms within the wards and rationed water for staff handwashing.
My infirmed neighboring bedmates were told to use an open area behind the ward to relieve themselves. In a few cases, these sick patients were too weak to do so, and the floor next to their beds quickly became soiled contributing to environmental contamination. The hospital would then dispatch valuable nursing staff to a lake –located half a mile away to get water in order to clean floors.
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