Nurses fighting coronavirus lack handwashing facilities: Report

On International Nurses Day, aid groups call on governments to ensure protection and safety of healthcare workers.

Salimata Dagnogo, 32, Matron of Talo Health Centre, collects dirty water from an open well in the village. Salimata has worked at Talo for eight years and faces big challenges in her role without the
Salimata Dagnogo, 32, collects dirty water from an open well in a village in Mali. She has worked at Talo for eight years and faces big challenges in her role without the availability of clean water [Guilhem Alandry/WaterAid]

One in six healthcare centres around the world lack safe handwashing facilities and nurses, at the front line of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, are struggling to wash even their own hands, an international aid group has warned.

As the world celebrates International Nurses Day on Tuesday, Water Aid said nearly half of all healthcare facilities in the poorest countries do not have clean water available. This has resulted in one billion people being forced to seek care where there is no clean water.

Doctors and nurses are on the front line of the coronavirus outbreak that has killed nearly 286,000 people and infected more than four million worldwide. Many healthcare workers have also died after contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

To prevent infection, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended basic hygiene such as regularly washing hands with soap and water, covering the mouth with an elbow when sneezing or coughing, and physical distancing. 

“Thousands of healthcare workers in developing countries are facing down this crisis with no clean water or soap to wash their hands,” Tim Wainwright, chief executive of WaterAid, said in a statement.

“The vital role of good hygiene in preventing hospitals becoming breeding grounds for disease is being woefully overlooked as part of the global response to COVID-19. This is putting the lives of doctors, nurses and patients at risk and will likely extend the duration of the pandemic.”

Uphill battle 

As the pandemic continues to spread, medical workers have documented the uphill battle they face while working long hours under difficult conditions.

Governments have also come under fire for failing to provide sufficient personal protective equipment – face masks, gowns, gloves and goggles – to their medical staff.

For many nurses in developing countries, access to clean water is a major concern.

“The water problem is really the biggest problem we face because we can’t make sure we meet all the hygiene standards. No matter how determined I or the staff are, without safe water our role is limited,” Salimata Dagnogo, a 32-year-old nurse in Mali, told WaterAid.

Rhoda Phandama, a nurse and midwife in Nkhotakota, Malawi, said: “We do not have enough soap for the people to wash their hands thoroughly. We need to have enough supplies so that we are protected and that the clients who come here with issues like injuries and other diseases do not end up catching coronavirus.”

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (ICRC) and the International Council of Nurses called on governments to commit to ensuring the protection and safety of nurses and other healthcare workers, especially in resource-poor, disaster and conflict settings.

“Nurses are the world’s life-savers. They are risking their own health and too often sacrificing time with their family to help those suffering from COVID-19,” Robert Mardini, ICRC director-general, said in a joint statement issued by the organisations.

Source: Al Jazeera