WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the Sanitation for All (SWA) Finance Ministers’ Meetings – Africa

Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,
It is an honour to join you today.
These discussions between health, water and finance ministers are among the most important meetings of the year.
Investing in water, sanitation and hygiene is critical to preventing both pandemics and local outbreaks. Its absence leaves us exposed.
In fact, one of our most fundamental public health measures fails in much of Africa and around the world because hundreds of millions of people cannot wash their hands.
That includes health workers in one out of three health care facilities globally.
You already know the basics: WASH is a first line of defence against COVID-19 and so many other diseases, such as diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid, malnutrition, influenza and pneumonia.
It is also critical to preventing the spread of antimicrobial resistance, which is one of our biggest global threats.
Without WASH, we are vulnerable. This fundamental science has been known for decades. Nonetheless, inequalities in coverage of water, sanitation and hygiene have persisted.
COVID-19, like many other diseases, thrives amid the inequities in our societies and our health systems.
The pandemic reminds the world of a fundamental tenet of public health: when some populations are unprotected, it leaves us all at risk.
Underinvestment in WASH has left 800 million Africans without safe drinking-water, and more than 700 million without basic sanitation or the means to wash their hands.
Thankfully, so far African countries have been less affected by the COVID-19 pandemic than most other regions.
But the lack of adequate water, sanitation and hygiene leaves many communities vulnerable to this and other pathogens.
Globally, we are alarmingly off-track to deliver on our commitments to Sustainable Development Goal 6 for water and sanitation.
Sanitation is especially lagging. At the current rate of progress, we will be in the 22nd century before sanitation for all is a reality.
To achieve the 2030 goals, the rate of progress for sanitation needs to quadruple.
WHO and UNICEF will soon launch the State of Sanitation report, which sets out a path for investment in governance, financing, capacity development, data, and innovation.
Investments in WASH are what we call a “no-regrets” investment, which support human rights and save lives.
In fact, WASH is an excellent investment.
The economic benefits of sanitation are about five times the cost.
And improving hand hygiene can generate savings in health expenditure up to fifteen times the cost.
As I mentioned earlier, one-third of health care facilities lack access to hand hygiene at points of care.
Unlike so many things today, this is a solvable problem.
The cost of implementing hand hygiene strategies in health care facilities range from 90 US cents to 2 dollars 50 per capita per year.
Ministries of Finance should prioritize “no-regrets” interventions such as these.
Investing in water, sanitation, and hygiene is the necessary foundation for a healthy and productive population.
WHO is assisting countries to track funding for WASH services. This is critical because of course water, sanitation and hygiene are not a one-time investment.
They require sustained funding and careful management. We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past.
WASH is a global public good, and as COVID-19 has shown us, we have no time to waste. We have to get it right.
With sustainable public investment, transparency, and accountability, we can make safe water, sanitation and hygiene a reality for everybody, in Africa and around the world.
I thank you.

Source: World Health Organization

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