Water remains our saving grace right now

CLEAN HANDS Administrators of the Shrine of St. Vincent Ferrer in Leganes town, Iloilo province, have built a hand-washing station, with running water and bars of soap, that pilgrims and residents can use whenever they visit the church. —RAYMOND NUEVA/CONTRIBUTOR

Since its discovery in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected entire nations across the world, destabilizing economies and threatening human lives on a massive scale. In just six months, the virus has infected more than 10 million people, with deaths mounting to half a million, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

In the Philippines, as of June 2020, the Department of Health (DOH) has documented more than 36,000 confirmed cases and almost 1,300 deaths. To prevent the spread of contagion thru direct and indirect transmission, along with other health measures, the Philippine government implemented strict community quarantine in mid-March in Luzon and other parts of the country. Working with the DOH, the WHO also issued guidelines in infection prevention and control, particularly constant handwashing and proper hand hygiene.

“Global hygiene crisis”

Hand-washing and proper hand hygiene is the first line of defense against the coronavirus, the WHO said. However, this fairly simple precaution is not available to everyone, particularly among the poorest living in slums, who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

According to a 2019 report from the WHO and United Nations (UN), 40% of the global population— roughly 3 billion people— do not have basic handwashing facilities at home. Out of that number, 1.6 billion do not have access to soap and water, while 1.4 billion do not have any washing facility (private bathrooms and toilets.)

Citing it as a “global hygiene crisis,” the UN has already included access to washing facility and safe water as part of its sustainable development goals, as the organization aims to ensure everyone has access to “adequate and equitable hygiene” by 2030.

“Without handwashing and adherence to good hygiene practices, the health and socio-economic benefits of improved water supply and sanitation cannot be fully realized and will impede progress towards many of the SDGs,” the UN said.

The lack of washing facility in many poor and developing countries becomes even more alarming, considering the surge of coronavirus cases. In most cases, the poorest bears the brunt of the burden.

In the Philippines, where lack of access to washing facilities and clean water is prevalent among the urban poor, such deficiency has resulted in thousands of deaths annually to water-borne diseases. In 2018, more than 22,000 Filipinos died from acute diarrhea and typhoid fever, according to the DOH.

As of now, there’s scant data regarding the effect of lack of washing facility and safe water and its correlation to the COVID-19. To have a clearer picture, one can only look at the number of people without proper sanitation and safe water in the Philippines to deduce that it poses a greater health risk now more than ever.

Critical importance of clean water and sanitation

“COVID-19 virus primarily spreads through droplet and contact transmission. Contact transmission means by touching infected people and/or contaminated objects or surfaces. Thus, your hands can spread virus to other surfaces and/or to your mouth, nose or eyes if you touch them,” according to “Safe Hands” campaign by the WHO. Hence, the health organization recommends frequent handwashing and proper hand hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus.

But what if there’s no water? According to data from Water.Org, nearly a quarter of the Philippine population— 24 million Filipinos— lack proper sanitation (washing facility), while almost 7 million Filipinos still lack access to clean and safe water.

While alcohol and sanitizers can be used, handwashing remains the preferred choice of the WHO, especially as some alcohol-based surgical hand rubs were already debunked to contain  “residual active ingredients.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already recommended using alcohol with greater than 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol in healthcare settings.

“Closing inequality gaps in the accessibility, quality and availability of water, sanitation and hygiene should be at the heart of government funding and planning strategies. To relent on investment plans for universal coverage is to undermine decades worth of progress at the expense of coming generations,” said Kelly Ann Naylor, UNICEF’s Associate Director of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene.

“Investing in water, sanitation and hygiene is cost-effective and good for society in so many ways. It is an essential foundation for good health,” Naylor added.

Under normal circumstances, clean water is an extremely important resource that everyone should have access to. But in the time of pandemic, it’s more than a necessity or an investment; it’s literally your first line of defense. And it can save your life and those around you. Sources:

1) https://covid19.who.int/

2) https://www.doh.gov.ph/covid19tracker

3) https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/water-sanitation-hygiene-and-waste-management-forcovid-19

4) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27912980/

5) https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/hand-hygiene.html

6) https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/18-06-2019-1-in-3-people-globally-do-not-have-access-tosafe-drinking-water-unicef-who

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