By Folasade Akpan, Abuja.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, says Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) are the backbone of disease prevention.
The minister, who said this at the inauguration of the National Guidelines for WASH in Healthcare Facilities in Nigeria on Thursday in Abuja, also said that poor practice of WASH could cause illnesses.
He said that water-borne diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea and bacterial infections were responsible for about 60 per cent of diseases in children under five years.
“So, WASH is an important aspect of disease prevention. The Ministry of Health is not only in the business of treating sick people but we are also in the business of preventing people from getting sick.
“This is because the more people you prevent from getting sick, the less work you have and the less expensive it is to treat them,” he said.
Besides, the minister said that medical tourism would reduce if the nation’s hospitals, whether Primary Healthcare Centre (PHCs) or tertiary health institutions, observed basic WASH principles.
He added that failure to observe the WASH principles would be a major turn-off for patients.
Ehanire said: “Patients come in to see the doctor but once they see the sanitation and hygiene situation, they turn back, and we wonder why people are going for medical tourism.
“Most of the time it is not because of lack of trained doctors, we have very well-trained doctors here, but simple things like housekeeping turn them off.”
The minister also expressed concern that health facilities, which were supposed to help in preventing diseases, were contributing to it.
He, however, added that the inauguration of the guidelines for healthcare institutions would help to address the situation.
The Director, Food and Drug Services Department, Mrs Olubunmi Aribeana, said one of the objectives of the guidelines was to strengthen the provision of WASH services in healthcare facilities in Nigeria.
According to her, it will support and guarantee adequate healthcare service delivery, in realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals — SDG 6: Access to Clean Water and Sanitation and SDG 3: Good Health and Wellbeing.
The director said that the implementation of the guidelines in healthcare facilities and in homes would definitely bring changes in the traditional practice of WASH, as Nigeria strove toward achieving global best practices.
Also, the Chief of WASH for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Ms Jane Bevan, said that achieving WASH targets by 2025 was very possible.
She said that UNICEF had supported the entire process throughout and would not rest on its laurels to ensure that the guidelines were disseminated and utilised.
Bevan said: “We have supported the country to look at hygiene and WASH. We need the support of ministries to ensure safe WASH in institutions and we are relying on our health institutions to be clean and safe.
“Safe WASH facilities are very instrumental to eradicating cholera in the country. We have had WASH facilities in the past but they have stopped working.
“I urge all to ensure this is given high priority to make sure they are regularly clean, and have in our budget the procurement of cleaning items like sanitary pads and toilet rolls.”
In Nigeria, the overall status of the WASH sector is poor, with only 90 per cent of the population having access to complete basic WASH services.
Meanwhile on healthcare facilities, 26 per cent do not have toilets or latrines, while only 20 per cent have basic hand hygiene services and only four per cent have combined WASH services.
The guidelines, however, recommend the provision of dedicated budget lines to improve and maintain WASH services in healthcare facilities.
They also recommend the constitution of dedicated WASH teams in all facilities and capacity building of healthcare workers to achieve a culture of adherence to standardised infection and prevention control measures.
The guidelines also said that when planning for sanitation management in healthcare facilities, safety, reliability, accessibility and user convenience should
be given paramount consideration.