News and Opinions  –  2019

Water, sanitation and hygiene services critical to curbing antibiotic "quick fix"

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2019-12-12

Addressing antimicrobial resistance is a multifaceted challenge, but what is often overlooked is reducing the need to use antibiotics. Antibiotics are regularly relied on to treat infections in healthcare facilities and communities that don't have adequate water, sanitation and hygiene services.

washing hands in blue and green bucket
Hand washing. Photo: Amelie Sow-Dia, Photoshare.

As the pillars of WHO’s AMR Global Action Plan reflect, addressing antimicrobial resistance remains a multifaceted challenge. However, what is often overlooked is reducing the need to use antibiotics in the first place. Antibiotics are regularly relied on to treat infections in healthcare facilities and communities without adequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). If practical steps are taken to address WASH in these low-resource communities, this antibiotic use could be reduced.

Recent reports from the World Bank and Chatham House confirm that unhygienic conditions are a major cause of antibiotic use in low- and middle-income countries, and that water, sanitation and hygiene improvements are a cost-effective way to reduce this. Practical steps to improve WASH, especially in low-resource settings, could reduce antibiotic use and thereby resistance, making a huge contribution to controlling the spread of antimicrobial resistance.

Alison is Technical Lead for Health at WaterAid Australia, Celina is a Policy Advisor at ReAct, Leah is WaterAid Sweden’s WASH and Health Advisor and Mengying is a Policy Advisor at ReAct.

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