Abimbola Akosile

WaterAid Nigeria has warned that efforts to fight Ebola and other diseases threatening the nation and Africa cannot be successfully sustained unless the world’s poorest are given the tools they need to fight the disease – clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene.

The international charity organisation, working in 34 countries across the globe, renewed its call for improvements in access to water, sanitation and hygiene in schools, healthcare facilities and public places in the country as reports surfaced of a fresh outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in a release issued by WaterAid Nigeria Communications & Media Manager, Oluseyi Abdulmalik,

As many as 50 per cent of schools and 42 per cent of healthcare facilities in sub-Saharan Africa are without access to water, the release noted. In Nigeria, almost a third (29%) of hospitals and clinics in the country do not have access to clean water; the same percentage do not have safe toilets and one in six (16%) do not have anywhere to wash hands with soap, according to a World Health Organisation report.

This puts patients and healthcare workers at unacceptable risk of infection, including some of the most vulnerable members of society – new mothers and their newborns. About one in five deaths of newborn babies in the developing world are caused by infections with a strong link to dirty water, poor sanitation and unhygienic conditions; and Nigeria has one of the largest numbers of neonatal deaths worldwide.

WaterAid Nigeria Country Director, Dr ChiChi Aniagolu-Okoye, said: “Good hygiene, and in particular handwashing with soap, have significant impact on the health and wellbeing of the global population. It was one of the ways in which Nigeria fought and won against the deadly Ebola virus in 2014. We cannot be lax in our attitude and neglect to consistently practice good hygiene. Ebola is back on the continent and it is frightening to think that we could all be at risk if we don’t take the necessary precautions and early enough.

“Other diseases such as monkey pox, cholera and Lassa fever are also continuing to threaten public health in the country; and these diseases can spread further and faster without sanitation and hygiene practices to block their path. An outbreak in one area can quickly become a city-wide, national or international epidemic.

“It is important that we promote consistent and long-term behaviour change throughout the year and as a crucial part of everyday life beyond just special global campaign days or when there is the threat of disease. WaterAid is committed to supporting the Government of Nigeria, at all levels, to improve access to these basic life-saving services and integrate water, sanitation and hygiene in education and health for improved and holistic outcomes in these areas.”

Out of all water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) interventions, hygiene promotion, and particularly handwashing with soap, has been identified as the most cost-effective disease control intervention; it certainly forms an important additional barrier to the spread of Ebola.

Nigeria is at the precipice of a sanitation and hygiene catastrophe. About 60 million people (33% of the population) are currently living without adequate access to water; over 120 million people (67%) do not have a decent toilet and about 47 million people (26%) practice open defecation, the release noted.

The reality is that countries that have been affected by Ebola have some of the worst water, sanitation and hygiene coverage in the world. The poor WASH situations in these countries has limited infection prevention and control and exacerbated the impact and reach of the Ebola outbreak, it added.

According to WaterAid, “The benefits of water, sanitation and hygiene are clear and well understood; improved WASH has direct impacts on health. Getting to zero, staying there and ensuring Ebola preparedness for any future outbreak requires major investment in WASH. Effective infection prevention and control (IPC) relies on safe water, basic sanitation and good hygiene.

“The Federal Government’s recent declaration of a state of emergency in the WASH sector couldn’t have come at a better time. It must serve as a wake-up call to each and every one of us to do whatever we can to remedy the situation. Everyone has a role to play. We are calling on state and local governments to follow the Federal Government’s lead and declare WASH states of emergencies at the local levels of governance”, it added.

WaterAid’s vision is of a world where everyone has access to clean water and sanitation. The international organisation works in 34 countries to transform lives by improving access to clean water, hygiene and sanitation in some of the world’s poorest communities. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 25.8 million people with clean water and, since 2004, 25.1 million people with sanitation.