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Poor Sanitation and Hygiene Killing Pregnant Women and Newborns in Developing Nations: WHO

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Pregnant women and newborns are dying due to dirty water, poor hygiene and inadequate sanitation, a new report from the World Health Organization warns.

A lack of clean drinking water in much of the developing world is responsible for widespread fatalities, according to the new analysis. Compounding the problem are unsafe hygienic practices and a lack of proper toilets.

In Tanzania, more than 30 percent of births take place in locations without adequate sanitation or clean water. One out of every 44 women in that nation will die during childbirth. Around the world, an average of 289,000 women die every year while giving birth.

"There is sufficient evidence that water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) may impact maternal and newborn health (MNH) to warrant greater attention from all stakeholders involved in improving MNH and achieving universal WASH access," researchers wrote in From Joint Thinking to Joint Action: A Call to Action on Improving Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene for Maternal and Newborn Health.

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and WaterAid researchers directed the report, along with colleagues from WHO, Unicef, and other organizations.

A survey conducted by investigators examined health care centers in 54 developing nations, finding 38 percent were without a source of improved water. This leaves many health care workers without the ability to safely care for new mothers and their offspring. In 2013, 45 percent of deaths of children under the age of 5 occurred in the first month of life, according to the WHO.

"This situation is not limited to Tanzania. What is frustrating is we know infection-related deaths are preventable, with the addition of clean water, basic toilets and good hygiene practice. Our hope is these findings will guide future work on U.N. development goals and make the provision of these services a priority, when trying to improve the health of new mothers and their babies," Lenka Benova of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said.

The 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak in London killed 127 people in three days, and 500 people within 10 days. John Snow, a local physician, studied the epidemic, determining that the local water supply was contaminated, although he had no knowledge of bacteria. A map created of the deaths showed victims were centered around a single water pipe, which was soon shut down. This analysis was the first major event to trigger our modern understanding of drinking water sanitation.

Globally, the mortality of mothers during childbirth has been reduced by 45 percent since 1990, and currently childbirth takes the lives of 210 mothers out of every 100,000 live births.

Deaths of newborn babies and pregnant women due to poor sanitation was detailed in the journal PLOS Medicine

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