Viewpoint: Make water a top global priority. It’s the best, cheapest way to save lives
By Bill Frist
This summer has seen the unprecedented and simultaneous outbreak of six of eight diseases posing the greatest threats to public health, according to the World Health Organization. You’d think that after the alarmingly fast spread of Ebola in West Africa just a few years ago, we’d have learned our lesson. Instead, the health intervention that has saved more lives than any other in recorded history remains alarmingly absent in global health care. That poses an immediate and long-term danger to us all.
We call it WASH — water, sanitation and hygiene. It’s the most critical resource in my preparation for every surgical procedure I performed over my lifetime, and it is dismally deficient or nonexistent in hundreds of thousands of health care facilities around the world. Not only are we wasting billions of dollars in health care costs and lost productivity, we’re undercutting our most effective front-line defense in disease prevention and containment.
This lack of WASH is a key reason why, during the 2014 Ebola outbreak that put the world on edge, the incidence of Ebola was 103-fold higher in health care workers in Sierra Leone than in the general population, and 42-fold higher in Guinea. Containing the West African Ebola outbreak took years, cost billions, and claimed more than 11,000 lives in three countries. The disease’s rapid spread was partly because family members and health care personnel could not adequately wash their hands after touching the sick and deceased.
Photo courtesy of DFAT.