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Healthcare is far more than medical care: reflections on COVID-19

Catarina de Albuquerque, SWA CEO
10 Mar 2020

As I follow the progress of the COVID-19 and what has been said on the subject, I can’t help but recognize many of the messages that those working in water, sanitation and hygiene are all too familiar with. Here are some:

  1. Healthcare is far more than medical care. Good health depends on a range of social, environmental and economic factors that are more about prevention than cure. Access to water, sanitation and hygiene is vital to address major health issues such as the COVID-19, but also other preventable diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, and pneumonia.

  2. A society is only as healthy as its most vulnerable members. You can have the cleanest toilet and wash your hands faithfully, but if your neighbours and their neighbours don’t have access to the same conditions, then you too are vulnerable. Inequalities in access to healthcare, as well as to water, sanitation and hygiene risk everybody’s health.

  3. Resilient systems save lives. COVID-19 is demonstrating the importance of what SWA partners work towards: governments with strong and resilient systems. By systems, I mean accessible healthcare, information, and of course, water, sanitation and hygiene. And by strong and resilient I mean systems that are well managed, that have the right people, with the right knowledge, with the right financing in place. Systems that have risk management plans and ensure all stakeholders contributing in a coordinated way.

  4. Water, sanitation and hygiene are indivisible. To be hygienic you need proper sanitation facilities with running water and soap. In order to have clean water, you need waste to be properly managed, so it doesn’t contaminate water sources. Having a toilet with running water and soap, but not the habit of handwashing, still make us vulnerable to contagion.

Today, there are still 2.2 billion people without safe drinking water, 4.2 billion without a safe place to go to the toilet and 40% of the global population doesn’t have basic handwashing facilities with soap and water available at home. Viruses don’t recognize borders.

SWA and its partners will continue to work towards a world that is better prepared for responding to health crises. We will continue to fight for the recognition of the importance of investing in water, sanitation and hygiene, until access is a guarantee for everyone, always and everywhere.

Catarina de Albuquerque, SWA CEO
Catarina de Albuquerque
Chief Executive Officer, Sanitation and Water for All (SWA)