Youssouf was born in a clean and safe environment in Koumantou, Mali — one of the top 10 countries with the highest neonatal mortality rates in the world. Access to clean water at the community health centre helped to protect him and his mother Hawa from infection and disease.
When UNICEF constructed a well in 2017, the health centre gained access to clean water. Before that, malaria and diarrhoea were endemic in the area , and the newborn mortality rate was higher. Clean water has drastically improved the quality of care given to mothers and children.
The midwife who delivered Youssouf said: “To be the first one to see a newborn in the world is very special. I chose this profession because I love babies, and I love their mothers. Clean water helps prevent them from getting infections. Before we had the well at the hospital, children would get sick a lot more often.”
For Youssouf’s delivery, the midwife and the health workers used water from the well to clean themselves, the equipment, and to wash both Youssouf and his mother.
“After the birth, they used water to wash me; my sweat and blood was washed off [with water from the well]. I felt clean afterward[s], and my family came to celebrate,” said Youssouf’s mother Hawa.
But not all mothers are as lucky as Hawa. According to the latest data from UNICEF and WHO, around 17 million women living in the world’s Least Developed Countries have given birth in health centers with inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene.
In fact, globally 1 in 4 health care facilities lacks basic water, 1 in 5 lacks any sort of sanitation service, and around 1 in 6 health facilities has no hygiene service, which means patients and health workers are not able to wash their hands properly.
Almost 14 per cent of newborn deaths are due to infections, such as sepsis and tetanus. Without basic water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services, newborns and their mothers continue to be at risk of disease and infection.
UNICEF works for every mother and child to have access to affordable, quality health care, in clean and functional health facilities. The WHO and UNICEF Practical Steps report, released today, provides details on eight actions governments can take to improve WASH services in health care, so that more babies like Youssouf can be born in a clean and safe environment.
Philippa Lysaght works in advocacy for UNICEF’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene team.