Maternal Health Task Force


Global Handwashing Day: Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Maternal Health

By: Sarah Hodin, Project Coordinator II, Women and Health Initiative, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Adapted from: WaterAid & Evidence for Action. (2015). WaterAid MamaYe Clean Birth, Safe Birth Infographic. London: WaterAid & Evidence for Action.

This past Saturday was Global Handwashing Day, an event dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of handwashing for preventing diseases and saving lives. One of the Sustainable Development Goals is to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, reflecting the growing prioritization of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). The implications of WASH for the health of mothers around the world are enormous: approximately 10-15% of global maternal deaths are due to infection caused by poor hygiene practices. WASH plays a critical role in improving maternal health outcomes during pregnancy, delivery and postpartum.

Explore the following resources to learn more about the role of WASH in maternal health:

Presentations and events

Several speakers at last year’s Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference highlighted the importance of access to clean water and high quality maternal care:

Access to Water and Sanitation in Obstetric Facilities in 14 Western and Central African Countries: Review of Emergency Obstetric and Newborn Care Needs Assessments | Fabrice Fotso and Alain Prual

Driving Improvements in WASH in Healthcare Facilities in Cambodia: Facility-Level Assessments to National Level Change | Lindsay Denny and Alison Macintyre

Opportunities for Improvement: Lessons from the WASH & CLEAN Study in India and Bangladesh | Kranti Vora

Starting Out Right: Building Improved Hygiene Practices into the Antenatal Platform | Merri Weinger and Rob Quick

In 2014, experts convened at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. to discuss the relationship between poor maternal health and WASH:

Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Programs as a Strategy to Advance Maternal Health | Advancing Dialogue on Maternal Health Series

From the MHTF Blog

WASH and Women’s Health | MHTF Blog Series

Maternal Health, Breastfeeding and WASH | Katie Millar (August 2014)

A Fresh Focus on WASH, Maternal and Child Health | Charles Banda (March 2013)

Exploring Possible Synergies Between Maternal Health and WASH | Lauren Herzer (January 2013)

Maternal Sepsis and Ignaz Semmelweis, the Father of Infection Control | Kate Mitchell (2012)


Who delivers without water? A multi country analysis of water and sanitation in the childbirth environment | PLOS One (August 2016)

Risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes among women practicing poor sanitation in rural India: A population-based prospective cohort study | PLOS Medicine (July 2015)

Getting the basic rights – the role of water, sanitation and hygiene in maternal and reproductive health: A conceptual framework | Tropical Medicine & International Health (March 2015)

PMNCH Knowledge Summary #30: Water, sanitation and hygiene – the impact on RMNCH | Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (2014)

The contribution of unimproved water and toilet facilities to pregnancy-related mortality in Afghanistan: Analysis of the Afghan Mortality Survey | Tropical Medicine & International Health (October 2014)

Systematic review and meta-analysis: Association between water and sanitation environment and maternal mortality | Tropical Medicine & International Health (April 2014)

Overcoming the taboo: Advancing the global agenda for menstrual hygiene management for schoolgirls | American Journal of Public Health (March 2013)


Mothers, babies in peril as Indian hospitals fall short on hygiene | The Quint (July 2016)

One basic way India can prevent mother and child deaths: Provide clean water at health centres | (July 2016)

No maternal health without clean water | The Huffington Post (May 2016)

What kills more women than AIDS and breast cancer? Dirty water | Thomson Reuters Foundation (March 2015)

Poor water and hygiene ‘kills mothers and newborns’ |BBC (December 2014)

Safe water and basic sanitation would slash maternal deaths, report says | The Guardian (December 2014)

Lisa Meadowcroft on integrating water and sanitation with maternal health goals in Kenya | New Security Beat (May 2014)

Water, sanitation, and hygiene programs as a strategy to advance maternal health | New Security Beat (April 2014)

Latin America: Closer to achieving MDGs, but maternal health and sanitation still lag behind | The World Bank (April 2013)

Learn about the WHO Safe Childbirth Checklist, which includes handwashing as a strategy for preventing life-threatening maternal health complications.

Are you working on a maternal health project focused on water, sanitation & hygiene? We want to hear from you!

Categories: Maternal Health


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