Fast tracking safe and universal health care through WASH


What is a hospital without clean water?

The United Methodist Hospital in Wembo Nyama, Democratic Republic of the Congo, was built many decades ago with only an underground cistern to store rain water. When that became contaminated it had to be closed, leaving the hospital without any safe water supply. For a hospital that provides services to more than 20,000 patients each year, this was a real danger. The investment in a borehole and pump, which channels water into an overhead storage tank, has made a remarkable difference in decreasing the infection rate and raising the quality of services provided by Wembo Nyama – and so has the construction of toilets for patients, staff and visitors. Our goal is to ensure that United Methodist rural hospitals are service centers safe for patients and staff while also providing privacy, protection and hygiene.

Residents of the communities surrounding the Dingele Health Center gather with their jugs to collect fresh, safe and potable water from the new well made possible with funding from the Abundant Health Initiative. Photo: Central Congo Health Board

The United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, issued a Call to Action on March 22, 2018, for the expansion of access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in all health-care facilities (HCF) – particularly in low- and middle-income countries where these basic services are frequently lacking. Over the last two years, the Abundant Health Initiative has been working with the health coordination offices of the UMC in Africa to expand essential health services to mothers and children in rural communities. We have now joined the global response to the Call to Action on WASH in HCF, which will build upon our effort to reach a million children with lifesaving interventions by 2020, through improved antenatal, obstetric, postnatal and child health services in underserved, rural communities.

Without WASH, it is impossible for health-care workers to prevent infection and keep patients, staff and caregivers safe. We have taken this further by investing in green energy solutions, so we can strengthen climate resilience while protecting all care seekers, especially mothers, newborns and children as well as health-care staff. The recent Ebola outbreaks in the DRC demonstrates how critical water supply and hand washing facilities are to everyone. Within the last six months, two small isolated health facilities in Central Congo, Dingele and Diengenga, have commissioned the first solar-powered water systems in the province. Toilets and showers were built last year but clean water is now also available for drinking, handwashing, oral rehydration and irrigation for the vegetable garden, which is part of the nutrition rehabilitation program.

Deep wells require tall drilling equipment. Workers dig the new well at Diengenga United Methodist Health Center in the DRC, work made possible with funding and partnership from the Abundant Health Initiative and Global Health.
Photo: Central Congo Health Board

Naturally, this new water point is also available for community members to use. The district medical officer, an official of the government of the DRC, commended the UMC “for the construction of the sanitary blocks and meeting the WASH standards that protect the population and patients in particular from infections and for providing structure and equipment, materials and drugs necessary for the care of the community population.”

WASH in HCF is not limited to the DRC. Chicuque Hospital in Mozambique, established more than a 100 years ago, underwent the same kind of upgrade last year, while Ganta Hospital in Liberia received a complete overhaul of its plumbing to ensure safe water supply for all patient needs and hospital services. Yonibana clinic in rural Sierra Leone was rebuilt soon after the Ebola crisis. It serves a large community of people. The clinic has now been outfitted with a triage center for all new patients, which ensures routine handwashing for patients and staff. Unlike before, the clinic now has functional toilets and good water supply. Okasa and Centre de Santé Osio PK8 in East Congo have received the same upgrades. The UMC-owned health facilities and schools in the Ebola-affected parts of East Congo have received handwashing equipment and focused health education to prevent the spread of the virus. In North Katanga, water purification with health education has been the church’s ongoing response to the cholera outbreak with the aid of grants provided by Global Ministries.

Residents gather at the Dingele Health Center to collect fresh, potable water at the opening of the new well even as the workers look on to ensure that the pump is working properly. Photo: Central Congo Health Board

Providing safe water sources and sanitation facilities in rural clinics and hospitals is not an easy task. Getting required equipment to drilling locations is often very expensive because of poor road networks. Skilled workmen often need to come from far away cities, which doubles the cost of services. We have only been able to accomplish these WASH updates because of the generosity of United Methodists. We invite others to partner with us as we expand WASH to ten more hospitals and clinics in 2019.

*Contributors to this article include Dr. Olusimbo Ige, executive director of Global Health, Dr. Graciela Salvador-Davila, technical advisor for Health Systems and Kathleen Griffith, program manager for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.