In response to the spread of COVID-19, CMMB President and CEO Bruce Wilkinson wrote the following op-ed that was first published by the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative.

After five months into the COVID-19 global pandemic crisis it is clear that basic preventative measures of hand washing, and social distancing significantly slow the spread of the virus. Those nations who have prepared for the impact with widespread dissemination of prevention techniques have fared far better than those who have not. Many developed world countries are experiencing significant strain on their health care systems. Yet even these national systems, who possess incredible ease of access to clean water and sanitation, have well established and secure infrastructures and an abundance of trained medical professionals, are struggling to manage the overflow of sick patients. Juxtaposed to African countries, where infectious diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and HIV already overwhelm their health care systems, there is little capacity to cope with yet another global pandemic. Global health experts agree that these vulnerable populations in Africa will face dire impacts if the scale and reach of COVID-19 begins to approach levels seen in the developed world.

Every moment of crisis is too a moment of opportunity, and this moment is no different.  A monumental shift in thinking must occur to ensure the protection and safety of millions of mothers and children worldwide. Right now, there are 3 billion people across the globe who do not have access to clean water at home. Drastic measures to bring safe water, sanitation and hygiene to health care facilities throughout Africa must be of the utmost importance in the weeks, months, and even years ahead. Imagine the desperate decision of a mother who must knowingly travel long distances to a health facility currently treating COVID-19 patients without proper hygiene facilities. The choice to either birth her baby at home or do so in a facility ill-equipped to protect her or her newborn is unfathomable, and unjust.

Scaling up capacity for clean water and sanitation at Healthcare facilities is foundational to the fight against the spread of the virus. By laying the foundation of clean water and sanitation, we are providing for a long-term solution that will not only increase the likelihood of saved lives in the face of COVID-19,  but will address other imminent pandemics as well as infectious diseases like TB, Malaria and HIV. In addition, clean water and sanitation is essential at the community level as it will sustain the gains provided by a well-functioning health system. Water and sanitation are the foundation whether at the community or facility level.

We must not only work to provide clean water, soap and sanitation but to train community healthcare workers to teach proper hand washing techniques and model the importance of possessing the heightened awareness around hygiene required during the COVID-19 pandemic. More frequent and regular hand hygiene will be supported by improved healthcare facilities, as well as the use of proven behavior change techniques.

As a global community, we have an incredible opportunity to gather partners near and far to build local capacity in response to not just COVID-19 but other existing and future pandemics. This is a moment of global awakening to the injustice and indignity of life without access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene. It is imperative that along with CMMB – governments, health organizations, community leaders, religious leaders and celebrities alike work together to bring WASH in Health Care Facilities and to our most vulnerable global family members.

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