Health

Poor water and hygiene 'kills mothers and newborns'

Woman with baby in Tanzania Image copyright WaterAid/Eliza Deacon
Image caption In some clinics in Tanzania pregnant women are asked to bring their own water supplies

Many mothers and newborns are dying because of a lack of sanitation, safe water and hygiene while giving birth, leading health experts have warned.

They say the lack of such basic facilities is hindering the success of other interventions to improve the health of newborn babies.

They have called on governments and agencies to focus more on the link between sanitation and saving lives.

Their report has been published in the scientific journal PLOS Medicine.

It has been drawn up by experts from the charity WaterAid, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the World Health Organization and other global health bodies.

Sanitation 'ignored'

They say that while the importance of hygiene - for example, hand washing - is being recognised in some places, much less consideration is given to the complete package of safe water, hygiene and sanitation.

In some cases sanitation - toilets and facilities to dispose of waste - is being ignored.

Nearly 40% of health facilities in 54 low-income countries do not have reliable clean water, according to the World Health Organization.

The report suggests that many efforts to improve newborn health focus on specific measures, sometimes at the expense of these basic facilities.

And it argues that the lack of ways to dispose of waste safely could hamper the success of other interventions.

The experts behind the report say governments and agencies should pay much greater attention to the link between sanitation and saving mothers' and babies' lives.

Image copyright WaterAid/Eliza Deacon

Yael Velleman, at WaterAid, said: "We have known since Victorian times about the importance of clean water and good hygiene at birth.

"Yet today tens of thousands of mothers will be giving birth in places where doctors and midwives, if present, do not have access to clean water.

"The process of giving life should not mean unduly risking death.

"As governments work to help women and their babies survive childbirth, they must not neglect these basic building blocks of health care."

Frustrating situation

A study in the same journal reveals fewer than a third of births in Tanzania occur in places with safe water and basic sanitation.

In 2013, one in every 44 women in the country faced dying in childbirth.

Lenka Benova, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: "Nearly 8,000 women in Tanzania die each year in or immediately after childbirth.

"This situation is not limited to Tanzania. What is frustrating is we know infection-related deaths are preventable, with the addition of clean water, basic toilets and good hygiene practice.

"Our hope is these findings will guide future work on UN development goals and make the provision of these services a priority, when trying to improve the health of new mothers and their babies."

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