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One in five babies die from lack of soap and clean water

Imagine if all of the people in Staten Island just disappeared. That is roughly equivalent to what happens to infants the world over during their first month of life. Half a million babies die each year in developing countries across the globe. Why? Because they are born into conditions in which soap and clean water are scarce.

According to a new report co-written by the sanitation advocacy group WaterAid and the World Health Organization (WHO), simply having soap and clean water with which to wash newborns and the hands of healthcare workers is a matter of life and death.

“The ability to keep a hospital or clinic clean is such a fundamental basic requirement of health care that you have to question whether a facility without clean running water or basic sanitation can adequately serve its patients,” Barbara Frost, chief executive of WaterAid, told Reuters on Tuesday. “Being born into unhygienic conditions condemns too many babies … to a tragically early and avoidable death.”

The WHO estimates that across 18 Sub-Saharan African nations, as few as 20 percent of healthcare facilities have access to water. Among 54 developing countries worldwide, as many as 38 percent of healthcare facilities lack clean water, and 19 percent lack safe toilets. Over 35 percent of hospitals and clinics in these nations have absolutely nowhere for patients and staff simply wash their hands with soap.

WaterAid is aiming to address this public health problem with the launch of its Healthy Start, a four-year campaign to advocate for water and sanitation for everyone by 2030.

“Mothers everywhere deserve to give birth in a safe environment,” says Sarina Prabasi, chief executive of WaterAid America. “Clean water is essential for this safe environment, and can help give vulnerable newborn babies a healthy start in life.”

“We all know the links between dirty hands, dirty water and infant mortality,” said Prabasi in a statement. “And still, one in five newborn deaths in the developing world is due to a lack of safe water, sanitation and clean hands.”

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