Supporting Nurses & Midwives: Heroes on the Frontlines of Covid-19

This month we joined our partners and the World Health Organization (WHO) in recognizing World Health Day. This year’s theme, “Support Nurses and Midwives,” celebrates the heroism of these front line health care professionals. Declaring 2020 the Year of the Nurse and Midwife was planned prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 but our current state of affairs makes the theme even more meaningful. 

In celebration of the month and the extraordinary work of nurses and midwives across the globe, we thought we’d share a bit about our long-term partnership with Fresh Water Project International (FPI) providing clean water to health care clinics in Malawi.

We’ve always believed in delivering clean water to health care facilities. EWB-USA was the first organization to commit to the UN Secretary General’s call to action to provide Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in all health care facilities because we know that clean water can be the difference between life and death.

Since 2017, EWB-USA has been working in partnership with the Malawi-focused NGO Freshwater Project International (FPI) in assessing and repairing water systems at seven rural health centers, collectively serving 230,000 community members.

Health Care Clinics in Malawi

For people living in rural Malawi, health centers are frequently the first and only point of care. And, a lack of clean water onsite has profound implications: 

When healthcare facilities do not have access to adequate water and sanitation services, they risk becoming places for infection as opposed to places for healing–jeopardizing the health of both the medical staff and patients,” says Cathy Leslie, EWB-USA’s chief executive officer. 

In fact, WHO cites the absence of water, toilets, soap, and waste management in health care facilities (HCFs) among the most urgent global health challenges in the coming decade and it’s easy to see why. 

The current infectious outbreak of COVID-19 provides a real-time example of the importance of clean water at HCF’s and its role in providing an essential first line of defense against disease.

“While the clinics we are working with in Malawi had functioning water systems at one time, they have broken down or are in need of repair. Breaks or leakage can cause inconsistency of water supply or contamination,” says Senior Program Manager Kevin Andrezejewski, who has been coordinating our efforts on the project, “Corroded pipes are often blocked, preventing access to clean running water in some cases for many years.”  

Having visited a number of the HCFs over the past four years, he says, “It is incomprehensible that the nurses, midwives and other medical professionals at these centers do not have access to clean water. Without clean water, providing sterile life-saving services is nearly impossible.” He recalls talking to a clinic manager at Likangala Health Center who relayed stories about how the clinic would not have access to water for many days. This was before EWB-USA and FPI installed a new solar water pump and repiped the entire water system to install tap stands and functioning sinks throughout the main clinic and maternity ward. 

Together with FPI, we are offering a comprehensive technical water system upgrade which includes, replacing the aging galvanized water distribution systems with reliable, easy to repair HDPE pipes and switching out broken pumps, storage tanks, sinks, and taps. We’re also installing control valves at each connection in order to provide better maintenance solutions.

To ensure the clinics have a clean and dependable water supply, we’ve assessed over 25 health care sites, worked on designs at 12 clinics, and are in the process of completing retrofits at 7 clinics and training system operators to maintain these sites for years to come. And, with each of these clinics serving a catchment population of 30,000-40,000 people, we’re having a considerable impact.

Our future project plans include continuing to support the clinics we’ve assisted and assessing and retrofitting an additional six to ten sites. Through this work, we’re equipping WASH professionals with the power of clean water.

About the Author
Engineers Without Borders USA builds a better world through engineering projects that empower communities to meet their basic human needs and equip leaders to solve the world’s most pressing challenges.