The added value of investing in hygiene and health

There are considerable economic benefits from investing in water and sanitation. According to the WHO, these include an overall estimated gain of 1.5% of global GDP.20

The economic benefits of investing in hygiene and health, should be measured in terms of return on investment (ROI), as such investments decrease healthcare costs and increase productivity.21 The WHO estimates that every dollar invested in sanitation provides a return on investment for society of US$ 5.50 due to lower health costs, more productivity, and fewer premature deaths.22 As shown in earlier reports23, handwashing stands out in comparison with other public health interventions. Research has found that a national handwashing behavioral change program would provide a 35-fold return on investment in China, and a 92-fold return in India.24

Kid using a tippy tap handwashing station next to her mother (photo)

Farmer Janeth Sitilenie teaches her daughter to use a tippy tap handwashing station next to their latrine in Botoret village, Kenya.

Stepping up financing

To reach the SDG 6.2 target of safely managed sanitation, there is an urgent need to globally prioritize sanitation, hygiene and menstrual health. Therefore, WSSCC is evolving into the Sanitation and Hygiene Fund (SHF) by 2021.

Today, 1 in 3 people in the world do not have basic handwashing facilities at home, and 70% of health workers are not able to routinely wash their hands at work. “We know now, more than ever, that this is unacceptable and a serious risk to everyone’s health. We have the opportunity now to make a difference and protect everyone’s health and well-being,” says O’Neill. In 2019, less than 15% of countries surveyed had policies, costed plans or adequate financial and human resources to address their rural or urban sanitation gaps. To reach national urban and rural sanitation targets, countries face funding gaps of 74% and 59% respectively25.

“It is only with sustained and well targeted investments in countries, that we will see a tangible shift in attitudes and practices. I am proud to say that the Fund is ready to step up as a financing mechanism to fill the void in international response to sanitation and hygiene where it matters most – in schools, healthcare facilities and homes,“ concludes O’Neill.

Dominic O’Neill, Executive Director, Sanitation and Hygiene Fund (portrait)

The Sanitation and Hygiene Fund

The Sanitation and Hygiene Fund is a global financing organization designed to raise, catalyze and invest resources to accelerate delivery of sustainable sanitation, hygiene and menstrual health services for all. The Fund will invest in countries where the sanitation and hygiene needs are greatest and yet are least able to respond. Read more

Dominic O’Neill, Executive Director of the Sanitation and Hygiene Fund

Engaging with the ministers of finance

Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) is a global partnership of governments, donors, civil society organizations and other development partners working together to coordinate high-level action, improve accountability and use scarce resources more effectively.

Catarina de Albuquerque welcomes the Hygiene and Health Report, and its call to the prioritization of hygiene and health for all.

Catarina de Albuquerque, CEO, Sanitation and Water for All (photo)

Catarina de Albuquerque is the CEO of the Sanitation and Water for All global partnership.

“In 12 years working in this sector, I have never seen hygiene so high on the political and media agenda. It may have unfortunately taken a global pandemic to raise the world’s awareness of its importance, but Sanitation and Water for All partners are committed to making the best of a bad situation, working to use this interest to push the sector forward in the longer term,” says de Albuquerque.

As COVID-19 demonstrates, we are only as healthy as the most vulnerable members of society. The economic argument for investment needs to go hand in hand with ensuring the elimination of inequalities. Women in particular suffer from inadequate access to water, sanitation and hygiene due to their traditional caring roles, preventing them from using their time more productively. Barriers that keep women from improving their lives need to be broken, no matter if the barriers are related to legislation, policies, strategies or cultural norms. Sanitation and Water for All are doing this by using advocacy for the prioritization and financing of services for the people who are left behind.

“Currently, we are increasing our engagement with the ministers of finance. The objective is to effectively integrate water, sanitation and hygiene into the economic and health programs needed to manage and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and prevent future health crises. The message is clear – investment in water, sanitation and hygiene is among the most cost effective, considering the reduction in costs for healthcare and prevented loss of education and productivity,” says de Albuquerque.

“Resilience to future crises depends on action taken now, so let us ensure this is not a missed opportunity to achieve our vision of water, sanitation and hygiene for all, always and everywhere,” de Albuquerque concludes.

20 WHO. Water sanitation hygiene. Visit source

21 WHO (2016). Water, sanitation and hygiene in health care facilities – Global strategy, burden of disease, and evidence and action priorities, Workshop Report. Visit source

22 WHO. Sanitation: Key facts. Visit source

23 Essity & WSSCC (2018). Personal Well-being – Key to Public Progress. The Hygiene and Health Report 2018-2019. Visit source

24 Townsend J, Greenland K, Curtis V (2017) Costs of diarrhea and acute respiratory infection attributable to not handwashing: the cases of India and China. Trop Med Int Health, 2017; 22(1): 74-81. Visit source

25 UN Water, National systems to support drinking-water, sanitation and hygiene – Global status report 2019 Visit source