Investments in vaccines must go hand in hand with improving hygiene
Crizonia Soares, 7, and Dircia Dos Santos, 7, handwashing at one of the new tap stands in the village of Grotu in Manufahi District, Timor-Leste, 2015 | Credit: WaterAid
Tomorrow, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will digitally host leaders at the Gavi replenishment event. The UK can be a leader in child health by improving access to hygiene services alongside its investment in vaccines.
Here in the UK, many of the diseases we routinely get vaccinated against as children are more familiar to us through history books than in our daily lives.
Yet those diseases still strike many thousands of children around the world every year.
We currently face a global pandemic of a disease which as yet has no treatment or vaccine.
Covid-19 has shown us that preventing disease has never been so crucial and one of the oldest, simplest and most effective methods of disease prevention available, good hand washing, is at the core of public health advice from the World Health Organization.
But for too long, investment in hygiene – and clean water and decent toilets – has been neglected.
Even now, investments in getting somewhere to wash their hands for the three billion people who live without such facilities has been largely absent from the global response to the pandemic.
From WaterAid’s ongoing analysis of financial support to developing countries for the Covid-19 response, only 8 out of 53 commitments include any mention of hygiene.
For too long, investment in hygiene – and clean water and decent toilets – has been neglected.
Tomorrow, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will digitally host leaders at the Gavi replenishment event.
The vaccine alliance is seeking pledges of funding and resources for immunisation programmes and building stronger health systems.
The UK deserves praise for its leadership, having already made a significant commitment, pledging the equivalent of £330 million a year for the next five years.
But to make the biggest difference to children’s lives, investments in vaccines must go hand in hand with investments in improving hygiene.
Making sure that every single vaccination programme is integrated with work to improve both nutrition and access to water, sanitation and hygiene could almost halve deaths from diarrhoea and pneumonia and reduce morbidities by nearly two thirds. That’s the equivalent of averting nearly 700,000 child deaths a year.
Vaccines and clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene are some of our best – and most cost effective - public health interventions but neither are currently used to their full potential.
To make the biggest difference to children’s lives, investments in vaccines must go hand in hand with investments in improving hygiene.
As crises develop, routine vaccination programmes tend to drop, replaced by emergency response work, or because conflict makes the environment unsafe.
This leads to a long tail of preventable disease and death that continues for many, many years, even when the crisis is resolved.
UNICEF, Gavi and WHO estimate 80 million children are at risk of diseases that could be prevented by vaccines due to delayed or disrupted immunisations programmes during Covid-19 shutdowns.
Poor water, sanitation and hygiene cause approximately 88% of all incidents of diarrhoeal diseases.
Frequent illnesses and undernutrition keep children from attending school and adults from work, limiting students’ potential and reducing adults’ income.
We urge the Government to also champion the fundamental role of hygiene and by investing in and promoting integrated immunisation and hygiene programmes.
All of this contributes to a vicious cycle of poverty, and impacts on a country’s economic growth and development.
The UK has already shown it can be a leader in support to Gavi, but we urge the Government to also champion the fundamental role of hygiene and by investing in and promoting integrated immunisation and hygiene programmes.
This approach combines two of the most effective disease prevention methods we have. Vaccine programmes reach more people than any other health intervention, so they serve as the perfect entry point to improving hygiene.
While we hope and wait for a Covid-19 vaccine, strengthening critical routine and mass immunisation services with hygiene interventions is a ‘no-regrets’ approach.
Frequent handwashing with soap and water is one of the key components of controlling the spread of infectious diseases, and safely managed water, sanitation and hygiene services are essential for helping communities recover.
This approach can help to improve the health of millions of children and families, enabling them to lead full and productive lives.