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Third of hospitals in developing world lack clean running water: study

[LONDON] At least a third of hospitals in developing nations do not have clean running water, a study has found, leading to unsanitary conditions and further spread of disease in drought-hit areas.

The study examined 430 hospitals in developing countries and found that one third of clinics did not have a reliable source of clean water to perform surgical operations.

Water availability ranged from 20 per cent in Sierra Leone and Liberia to more than 90 per cent in India, Malaysia and Guinea, according to the report, which used World Bank data and analysed previous studies between 2009 and 2015.

"Running water is something we take for granted and it doesn't exist in a third of hospitals in these countries," said Adam Kushner, lead author of the study, published in the Journal of Surgical Research.

"Instead of water just being there, some hospitals truck in water or collect it in rain barrels, with no guarantee of its cleanliness," said Mr Kushner, an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University who is also a surgeon.

Every year, half a million babies die before they are one-month-old due to a lack of clean water and safe sanitation in hospitals, according to a 2015 report by sanitation charity WaterAid and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

For one in five of those babies, being washed in clean water and cared for in a clean and safe environment by people who had washed their hands with soap could have prevented their deaths.

"What do you do if a woman shows up in obstructed labour and needs an emergency caesarean section and it's the dry season and the rain barrel is empty?" Mr Kushner said.

"You can't operate with dirty instruments, but if you don't she's going to die. This is the sort of dilemma that surgeons in these hospitals face."

As climate change contributes to rising sea levels and extreme weather, the United Nations estimates that by 2050 at least one in four people will live in a country with chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water.

The unpredictability of climate change could add to challenges in providing safe and hygienic medical care in developing nations, particularly during drought, Mr Kushner said.

"Many of the facilities without a continuous supply of water are often dependent on collecting rain water during the rainy season," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Prolonged droughts could cause this source of water to become more difficult to use. This includes the lack of water to clean instruments, wash lines and gowns, and clean patient wards."

Some 650 million people, or one in 10 of the world's population, do not have access to safe water, according to the WHO.