I hope your day has started well. I assume you and your team must be having a hectic time dotting your “I”’s and crossing your “T”’s towards the 2019 budget presentation. Media reports say the President has assured Ghanaians that the budget would “reflect the hope Ghanaians have in the government and the future of the country”. This sounds very refreshing especially when I think about all the people who woke up this early morning to squat along the beach, in alleys, bushes etc to openly defecate because they have nowhere to do this basic human activity which just a few privileged Ghanaians take for granted. The few take this for granted because they perform this activity in their homes, sometimes in well tiled and decorated rooms with sweet fragrances and soap to wash their hands afterwards. But this is not the case for over 24 million Ghanaians (UNICEF/WHO Joint Monitoring Platform 2017). These are people who usually do not have running water in their homes and must spend hours, which could have been put to more productive use, searching for water for their daily chores.
Ghana has so many brilliant plans to help solve water and sanitation problems. But nothing much has come out of them because of the inability to commit some funds to roll out these plans. In the 2018 budget, 186 million cedis was allocated for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and this was followed with a 255 million cedis to solve sanitation problems. But this is not enough. We need about 386 million annually to solve water and sanitation problems in our dear country.
Kindly prioritise WASH in the next budget and allocate more funds towards achieving universal access. Then Mr. Minister, Ghana will be seen as making efforts to achieve SDG 6 ( Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all) and target 2 of SDG3 (By 2030, end preventable deaths of new-borns and children under 5 years of age, with all countries aiming to reduce neonatal mortality to at least as low as 12 per 1,000 live births and under-5 mortality to at least as low as 25 per 1,000 live births)
Are you wondering why I mentioned SDG 3 also? Inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene services affects healthcare facilities also. Community Health Planning Services (CHPS) compounds and Polyclinics in most of our communities are built without adequate sanitation and running water. Patients do not have a place to relieve themselves; they either must do it in nearby bushes or share, what is usually, the only toilet in the facility with nurses.
Without running water in these health care facilities our nurses and doctors are often unable to easily practice proper hand hygiene before and after medical procedures. They rely on alcohol rubs to avoid contracting diseases. The sinks and water closet toilets in these facilities have been reduced to white elephants because they are not functional. In some cases, the toilets have been turned into store rooms. Under such circumstances nurses resort to pure water or join long queues with community people to fetch water for their veronica buckets which is the ‘water system’ at their disposal.
The challenges are compounded in health care facilities where women go to give birth. In the face of inadequate water access, midwives are sometimes compelled to cut corners and compromise on hygiene. This is done to the detriment of their own health and that of patients who consult them for medical care. What a risk! Mothers are at risk and babies are more endangered and some of them die needlessly. It is unacceptable to expose new born babies to such risk because the first few weeks of life is the most vulnerable time of a child’s life – he or she is 15 times more likely to die than at any other point in the first year of life.
Mr. Minister, make my day and give hope to nurses who break their backs to treat the sick in marginalised communities. Give hope to new mothers and their babies by ensuring they begin life in a hygienic setting. This can be achieved. We can stop relatives of expectant mothers from carrying along buckets of water for midwives to bathe mothers and new born babies.
I hope I have given you enough reason to meet my humble demand. Just dedicate more funds in your budget for improving WASH access especially in public places like schools and health facilities. And these funds should be spent as intended. WASH should not be taken for granted or trivialised. We have a lot to gain if water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) for health care centres is prioritised in your budget. Life expectancy will increase because every healthcare facility must have clean running water, safe toilets for patients, separate for men and women with functional sinks and soap for health workers and patients in all treatment and delivery rooms.
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Finally, Mr. Minister please give us a “no reason to be poor” budget (that is what the President called the budget) that will make it possible for health workers to apply simple cost-effective methods to keep new-borns and mothers alive and healthy. Then, health care workers, expectant mothers and babies shall also translate/ interpret the “no reason to be poor budget” as the president called it, to be a “no reason to die needlessly budget”
I wish you well.
Writer: Yvonne Kafui Nyaku | Communication and Campaigns Officer,
WaterAid Ghana | email: firstname.lastname@example.org