WASH it off – Practical ways for making healthcare facilities COVID-19 ready with better WASH services

As part of the WASH and the COVID-19 Pandemic Online Symposium, the World Health Organization (WHO) is convening a workshop on COVID-19 and WASH in healthcare facilities.


Hand hygiene is known to be one of the best barriers to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But without access to basic water services, people are not able to wash their hands. Without water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), healthcare facilities cannot provide the care for, and protection of, patients and staff that they need.

In December 2020, the World Health Organization and UNICEF released a global progress report on WASH in healthcare facilities (Fundamentals First). The report shines a light on the lack of adequate services and calls for actions to invest in WASH services[1].

The report data shows that:

  • A quarter of all health care facilities have no basic water services, which means 712 million people have no access to water when they use health care facilities.
  • 10% of health care facilities globally have no sanitation services.
  • One in three do not have adequate facilities to clean hands at the point of care.
  • One in three health care facilities do not segregate waste safely[2].

To continue to raise the importance of WASH in healthcare facilities, WHO and WaterAid, with support from UNICEF are convening a skills-building workshop as part of the WASH & COVID online symposium.

Photo Credit: WaterAid


The workshop will cover how facilities can use “WASH FIT”, the WHO/UNICEF Water  and Sanitation for Health Facility Improvement Tool[3]. WASH FIT is a framework for facilities to assess and manage their risk related to WASH and waste, which has so far been used in 40 countries.

A section to be facilitated by WaterAid will have a special focus on gender, equity and social inclusion in healthcare facilities. The workshop will challenge participants to consider how to ensure WASH services are equitable and what the implications of COVID-19 are in doing so. The UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Office will also be supporting the workshop and providing regional examples from their work.

Speaking to the challenges of WASH in healthcare, workshop convenor Arabella Hayter, WHO, says, “the issues of poor access to WASH services and poor quality of care haven’t gone away with COVID-19. The silver lining [of the pandemic] has been a greater focus on public health issues and a recognition of the importance of providing access to these basic services. COVID-19 has really knocked the SDGs off track. We also need to be addressing climate change and the significant impact on WASH services”.

The WHO/UNICEF report further draws attention to the significant inequalities found across low and middle income countries, including the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on healthcare workers. Frontline (those health workers who are closest to communities and are often first responders to health needs or crises) workers are working under immense pressure and have higher infection and mortality rates: “Globally, health care workers represent less than 3% of the population, but account for 14% of COVID-19 cases reported to WHO”[4]. It argues that cleaners need to be represented in planning and decision making for the health workforce as well as receiving ongoing WASH and infection prevention training[5].

WHO and UNICEF share four recommendations to all countries and partners, particularly health and community leaders:

1 – Implement costed national roadmaps with appropriate financing;

2 – Monitor and regularly review progress in improving WASH services, practices and the enabling environment;

3 – Develop capacities of health workforce to sustain WASH services and promote and practice good hygiene; and

4 – Integrate WASH into regular health sector planning, budgeting, and programming, including COVID-19 response and recovery efforts to deliver quality services[6].


Workshop participants are encouraged to visit the WHO/UNICEF knowledge portal for WASH in healthcare facilities[7]. At this site it is possible to learn more about the evidence, tools and news and share resources and stories to increase the knowledge base. Visit www.washinhcf.org to find out more.

The COVID-19 and WASH in healthcare facilities workshop will be held from 17:00-18:30 AEST on Wednesday 21 April 2021.

For more information click here.



The online symposium WASH & the COVID-19 Pandemic: Responses for recovery and resilience is a knowledge-sharing event of Water and WASH Futures. Water and WASH Futures is a partnership activity of the Australian Aid program and International WaterCentre; this symposium is delivered with the partnership of Water for Women Fund and Grand Challenges Canada. For more information, visit washfutures.com

[1] World Health Organization (2020) Global progress report on water, sanitation and hygiene in health care facilities: fundamentals first, Geneva: World Health Organization; 2020

[2] Ibid

[3] https://www.washinhcf.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/What-is-WASH-FIT.pdf

[4] World Health Organization / UNICEF (2020) Global progress report on water, sanitation and hygiene in health care facilities: fundamentals first, Geneva: World Health Organization; 2020, p 10

[5] Ibid

[6] ibid

[7] https://www.washinhcf.org/