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World Water Day is celebrated on the 22nd March 2018 to focus attention on the importance of water. Access to clean, safe water is crucial to preventing infections, with infection and sepsis leading causes of maternal and newborn mortality estimated to cause 430,000 newborn deaths globally every year. 99% of maternal and newborn infections occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), the vast majority of which are preventable. Contributing to this crisis faced by many countries is the lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in health facilities where women go to deliver.

A report by WHO and UNICEF identified that 38% of healthcare facilities in LMICs do not have access to an improved water source, that is, a water source which is protected from outside contamination, while 35% of health facilities do not have of water and soap for handwashing, a basic necessity in preventing infections. Despite many positive improvements to WASH over the last few decades, we still have a long way to go in guaranteeing safe, clean birth for all.

Our work in Myanmar focusses on bringing hygiene and cleanliness to healthcare by supporting the design of a Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) process that will identify and prioritise WASH-related needs. Carrying out research and audits such as this help to identify crucial information to monitor and evaluate WASH needs so that ever-important improvements can be made.  While in Ethiopia, another of our focus countries, we have facilitated an ongoing process of improvement regarding WASH and infection prevention at Felege Hiwot Referral Hospital (FHRH). At FHRH, medical student Iyabo Adekunle-Olarinde, who completed her thesis with Soapbox, researched water volume requirements for hand hygiene during labour and delivery, comparing a high- and low- resource setting (UK and Ethiopia). The study provided an important contribution to the limited knowledge base around water use for hand hygiene in settings where efficient use is absolutely key.

Realising improvements in WASH in healthcare facilities and focusing on access to water as a critical resource for infection prevention requires commitment from partners at every level; local, national, and global. We work collaboratively with partners such as WaterAid, WHO, local NGOs and Ministries of Health to ensure improvements are sustained. Days like World Water Day help to draw attention to the importance of water and for organisations like Soapbox, helps to cast a light on the inadequate conditions caused by lack of WASH in health facilities. Global action must be taken to ensure no more lives are lost due to lack of water and its consequences.

This article was originally published on the Scotland’s International Development Alliance website.