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SWA Private Sector Statement on the COVID-19 Outbreak

SWA Private Sector Members
03 Apr 2020

“COVID-19 is a crisis of poorly managed sanitation, water and hygiene"– Catarina De Albuquerque CEO, SWA

SWA’s Private Sector members are working side by side with governments, public authorities, and other stakeholders to help citizens keep safe from the COVID-19 outbreak, to support peoples’ recovery and to help build sustainable systems today that will enable future resilient systems post-crisis.

With WHO and UNICEF emphasizing the important role of sanitation, water and hygiene in the response, and handwashing with soap to reduce the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, the protective power of sanitation, water and hygiene - including handwashing - has taken on a global focus like never seen before.  

The SWA Private Sector members continue to do everything we can to enable handwashing and provide access to water, sanitation and hygiene, for example through our products, our laboratories, our expert advisers and innovators and our key workers providing essential public utility services.

These global sanitation and hygiene efforts are critical in the battle against the novel coronavirus, but also cholera and other diseases such as diarrhoea and pneumonia which claim the lives of over 1.2 million children under 5 years of age every year.  For example, handwashing with soap can cut the risk of diarrhoea by at least 40 per cent and significantly lower the risk of respiratory infections.

The private sector and the many new business solutions that are being deployed for the crisis are uniquely positioned to help scaled-up response efforts to become sustainable and resilient systems post-crisis.  

But we cannot and must not do this alone– we wholeheartedly believe multi-stakeholder partnerships and joint action, via harnessing of diverse expertise, channels, co-funding and the ability to scale interventions, are the best way to protect everyone in the current pandemic by delivering water sanitation and hygiene for all. 

And it is governments and public authorities that have the irreplaceable role of leadership. Now more than ever is the time for bold action. To every government, our message is that you can count on the full support of the SWA’s private sector members. 

We call on every government to take the lead and prioritize the need for collaborative action to promote and enable handwashing and hygiene for all - not just now - but with a longer-term view to increasing access to safely managed water, sanitation and hygiene after the immediate response to the pandemic. 

For the private sector and businesses specifically, this means, for example:

  • Businesses small and large providing essential sanitation, water, hygiene and handwashing products and services locally must be able to continue to operate, and their efforts scaled up for the response.  
  • The emergency scale-up of businesses to protect the most vulnerable now will be able to carry on providing products and services post-crisis.  
  • Funding safety nets for local water, sanitation, hygiene, and handwashing SMEs to survive the crisis, and thrive post-crisis should be made available for low-income countries as they are for the SMEs of high-income countries.
  • Innovations for sanitation, hygiene and handwashing in the pipeline should be accelerated and supported with technical assistance.

We urge governments to join SWA’s Mutual Accountability Mechanism and its full potential to bring immediate, and longer-term systems change. By enabling collaborative, joint action, with the right levels of accountability and monitoring to increase handwashing and preserve sanitation, health and hygiene, we can enable new sustainable, inclusive development pathways to emerge that leave no one behind. Large-scale adoption of better WASH services and handwashing requires the support of an enabling environment led by governments working with businesses, civil society and research and learning partners.

Now is the right time. The vital importance of handwashing with soap and running water, because of its potential to protect people and save lives from COVID-19 is being understood.  But we need governments to plan and make significant multi-year financial commitments to supporting and promoting handwashing to protect the lives of all of their citizens.  

Finally, we urge every government to work with all partners to plan for how handwashing facilities and behaviour change can be effectively promoted during the pandemic and after the pandemic passes and the attention to handwashing likely also passes. This should include ensuring that every school and every healthcare facility in their country has access to safely managed sanitation, soap and water for all students, patients, and staff. The outcome must be people at home, work, school, and in their communities make a habit of washing their hands at critical times, including after being in public places, after touching frequently-touched surfaces, after coughing or sneezing, before meals and after using toilets.