Lack of access to water and sanitation to worsen 'catastrophic' antibiotic threat, WaterAid warns

Posted On: 
19th May 2017

The race to prevent the ‘catastrophic threat’ of antimicrobial resistance, expected to kill up to 10 million people a year by 2050, is being hampered by the lack of access to clean water and good sanitation in developing nations, the international development organisation, WaterAid warned today.

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The warning comes as health ministers of UN Member States meet in Geneva for the annual World Health Assembly, where discussions on tackling antimicrobial resistance are expected to figure prominently.

Currently 663 million people globally lack access to clean water and 2.4 billion are without safe, private toilets. In developing nations almost 40% of health care facilities do not have a water supply, 19% do not provide adequate sanitation and 35% do not have soap and water to sustain good hygiene practices.

Progress on bringing clean water, sanitation and hygiene to developing nations is too slow and is not being sufficiently linked to efforts to tackle the crisis of antimicrobial resistance, WaterAid said. Analysis by the UN revealed aid commitments to water and sanitation have fallen sharply since 2012 despite an international target to reach everyone, everywhere with access to clean drinking water and toilets by 2030.

Global successes in maternal and newborn health are among those most threatened by the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance as more women in developing nations decide to give birth in health facilities, a large proportion of which lack water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.

Yael Velleman, WaterAid’s Senior Policy Analyst on Health & Hygiene said:

“If current trends continue, millions of people are predicted to die each year because of infections which antibiotics have lost the power to treat. This is already a global health emergency, but the level of global attention to improving water, sanitation and hygiene in communities and healthcare centres does not measure up to the urgency of the need.

“Disease outbreaks are harder to control when sanitation is poor and there is no clean water, even if the disease itself is not strictly waterborne. Recent outbreaks such as Ebola and Zika also provide a stark reminder that the frequency of global trade and travel can quickly turn local problems into global ones, and the same applies to drug-resistant diseases”.

“We’re urging health ministers gathering in Geneva to acknowledge the critical role water, sanitation and hygiene play in preventing infection, before the next global health crisis hits. All three must be made a priority in plans to overcome antimicrobial resistance, globally, nationally and locally.”

The scale of the AMR crisis:

  • According to the World Bank drug-resistant infections could cause global economic damage on par with the 2008 financial crisis

  • The World Health Organization estimates 480,000 people develop multi-drug resistant TB each year, and drug resistance is starting to complicate the fight against HIV and malaria.

  • Diarrhoea, pneumonia and cholera are often preventable through basic improvements in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); these infections are commonly treated with antibiotics and are increasingly resistant to available drugs.

  • Around 315,000 children die each year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by dirty water and poor sanitation. That’s almost 900 children each day, or one child every two minutes.

  • An estimated 494 million cases of diarrhoea are treated annually with antibiotics in India, Nigeria, Indonesia and Brazil

  • Antibiotic use to prevent diarrhoea could be cut by 60% in India, Nigeria, Indonesia and Brazil by improving people’s access to water and sanitation

  • According to a recent Lancet paper, hospital-acquired infections are the third-biggest contributor to AMR globally

WaterAid at the World Health Assembly

The World Health Assembly runs from May 22–31 May 2017. WaterAid has a team of policy and programme staff attending the conference who’re available for interviews.

For more information or to arrange interviews please contact:

Jo Lehmann, Senior Media Officer +44 (0)207 793 4909 or Carolynne Wheeler, news manager, or +44 (0)207 793 4485