UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Global Access to Handwashing : Implications for COVID-19 Control in Low-Income Countries Brauer, Michael; Zhao, Jeff T.; Bennitt, Fiona B.; Stanaway, Jeffrey D.


BACKGROUND: Low-income countries have reduced health care system capacity and are therefore at risk of substantially higher COVID-19 case fatality rates than those currently seen in high-income countries. Handwashing is a key component of guidance to reduce transmission of the SARS-CoV2 virus, responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior systematic reviews have indicated the effectiveness of handwashing to reduce transmission of respiratory viruses. In low-income countries, reduction of transmission is of paramount importance, but social distancing is challenged by high population densities and access to handwashing facilities with soap and water is limited. OBJECTIVES: Our objective was to estimate global access to handwashing with soap and water to inform use of handwashing in the prevention of COVID-19 transmission. METHODS: We utilized observational surveys and spatiotemporal Gaussian process regression modeling in the context of the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study to estimate access to a handwashing station with available soap and water for 1,062 locations from 1990 to 2019. RESULTS: Despite overall improvements from 1990 {33.6% [95% uncertainty interval (UI): 31.5, 35.6] without access} to 2019, globally in 2019, 2.02 (95% UI: 1.91, 2.14) billion people, 26.1% (95% UI: 24.7, 27.7) of the global population, lacked access to handwashing with available soap and water. More than 50% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania were without access to handwashing in 2019, and in eight countries, 50 million or more persons lacked access. DISCUSSION: For populations without handwashing access, immediate improvements in access or alternative strategies are urgently needed, and disparities in handwashing access should be incorporated into COVID-19 forecasting models when applied to low-income countries. Reproduced with permission from Environmental Health Perspectives.

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