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Nearly Half a Million Babies Die from Poor Hygiene

Proper Hygiene and Care for Babies

Story at-a-glance -

  • Nearly half a million babies die in their first month of life each year because they are born into unhygienic conditions
  • Nearly half of hospitals and clinics in Africa do not have access to clean water
  • Clean water and hygiene education are more effective at reducing the spread of disease than vaccination campaigns

By Dr. Mercola

Simple interventions to improve hygiene, such as access to safe water, toilets and soap, could prevent one in five newborn deaths in the developing world.

The sobering finding comes from the non-profit organization WaterAid America, which revealed that nearly half a million babies die in their first month of life each year because they are born into unhygienic conditions. According to WaterAid’s Healthy Start report:1

For one in five babies who die during their first month of life in the developing world, simply being washed in clean water and cared for in a clean environment by people who had washed their hands could have prevented their untimely deaths.

In Mali, for instance, one woman in every 17 will lose a baby to infection during her lifetime compared to one in 2,958 in the US.”

Nearly Half of Hospitals in Africa Do Not Have Access to Clean Water

The World Health Organization (WHO) also released a report on water, sanitation and hygiene in the developing world, particularly as it relates to health care facilities. The report revealed that nearly half of hospitals and clinics in Africa do not have access to clean water, and of the 58 percent of facilities that do, only half of them can depend on their water supply being reliably clean.2

In some cases, such as in 18 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, only 20 percent of healthcare facilities have access to water. In all of the 54 developing countries included in WHO’s report:3

  • 38 percent of healthcare facilities do not have clean water
  • 19 percent do not have safe toilets
  • 35 percent do not have anywhere for staff or patients to wash their hands with soap

Many were also lacking adequate systems to dispose of health care waste, such as syringes, bandages and personal protective equipment, further promoting the spread of infection. According to WaterAid’s Healthy Start report:4

“It is hard to imagine that there is any medical professional, health department official or health minister who is unaware of the risks of exposing babies to infection due to unclean birth conditions and poor hygiene practices.

And yet, women are still giving birth in environments which do not have clean water, soap and sanitation, attended by carers who cannot or do not observe basic hygiene. The links between dirty hands, dirty water and infant mortality have been known for over 150 years, so this is not a situation waiting for an answer, but an injustice waiting for action.”

Disease Rates Drop as Hygiene Improves

We need only look to history to see how drastically improvements in hygiene can affect disease rates. In the US infectious disease rates dropped dramatically throughout the 1900s, and this is often attributed to the introduction of vaccines. In reality, improved sanitation and hygiene were responsible. As reported in the Journal of Pediatrics:5

The largest historical decrease in morbidity and mortality caused by infectious disease was experienced not with the modern antibiotic and vaccine era, but after the introduction of clean water and effective sewer systems.”

A more recent example could be seen in Haiti in 2010, when a cholera epidemic broke out, sickening over 100,000 Haitians and killing over 2,000. The epidemic was related to the 2010 earthquake that hit that country, wiping out water and sanitation networks that served as protection against this kind of disease.

In a study published in Geophysical Research Letters, researchers concluded that clean water and education would outperform vaccines in reducing the spread of the disease.6 According to the study:

“ …our results show that mass vaccinations would have a negligible impact at this stage of the epidemic. We also show that targeted sanitation strategies, providing clean drinking water supply and/or staging educational campaigns aimed at reducing exposure, may weaken the strength of the residual evolution of the infection.”

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The Problem With Pouring Billions Into Vaccination Programs in Developing Countries

Bill Gates, the biggest philanthropist in the world, continues to channel his billions into vaccines. While admirable on the surface, it’s tragic when you realize clean water and hygiene education are far more effective at reducing the spread of disease than any vaccination campaign.

Even vaccine magnate GlaxoSmithKline admitted to WHO that safe drinking water has a greater impact on reducing mortality rates than vaccines and antibiotics, but that’s more lip service than action.7

The fact is, clean water has saved far more lives than vaccines.8 Every year, diarrhea causes 2 million deaths, and 1.5 million of those victims are children.9 According to Unicef, bad water kills 4,000 children per day.10 It costs $20 million to vaccinate those 1.5 million children against rotavirus so that they don’t develop the diarrhea that can kill them.

On the flip side, the same amount of money – $20 million – is enough to provide wells, clean water and irrigation pumps to 100 million families. If you figure each family has a father, mother and two children, that means with the same investment it takes to vaccinate 1.5 million children for rotavirus, you can provide clean water to 400 million individuals, which will also help prevent other enteric diseases such as cholera and polio.

At the same time, it will irrigate their crops and essentially lift those families out of poverty. If instead you only vaccinate the children in that 400 million, you're spending $2.8 billion just on rotavirus vaccines alone. Nor will they have clean water, wells, or a means to financial freedom.

In addition to clean water, lack of sanitation and basic hygiene education are problems that must also be addressed if we are to help children around the world.

No Food and Clean Water … Just Vaccines?

An American family, the Gianelloni’s, visited a village in Uganda shortly after a Bill Gates vaccine campaign swept through and discovered what Bill Gates’ money does for hungry, sick children – essentially nothing.11

The family found that the children were starving, living on one meager meal a day. Their only water source was the same stagnant stream that they bathed in. They had no sewage or sanitation.

But, thanks to Gates, they were now vaccinated against measles and polio. Never mind that the most pressing epidemics in the area were actually Yellow Fever, malaria, HIV/AIDs and diarrhea … Worse yet, one little girl who had received a measles vaccine two weeks earlier was now suffering with the measles as a result!

After this blogger left, thanks to her and the mission group that arrived with her, the village had a water tank and clean water system, a cow, and a year’s worth of rice and beans. You can probably understand why the blogger made this comment about Gates’ “philanthropy”:

“I don’t care who you are or what side of the vaccine philosophy you fall under, there is no logic in the world that can explain that going into a remote village and giving children who only eat one meal a day and have never had clean drinking water, a vaccine.

Seriously? Think about it. Can you imagine walking up to this precious little girl and saying ”I know you are starving, but here is a measles vaccine instead. I promise this will make you much healthier than food or water”.

It’s a scary day when simple logic no longer exists. Food & Water, nope. Vaccines, yep. And innocent children suffer the consequences. It’s absurd."

Nutrition is incredibly important as well. Infectious organisms are more likely to penetrate the bodies of malnourished children due to inadequate vitamin C, which causes their skin to break down more easily and facilitates the entry of bacteria and other pathogens. The same is true for vitamin A deficiency, another common third-world problem, which results in increased susceptibility to infection and which could be rectified in individuals for pennies a day. Also, the living conditions of third-world children are often so poor that they are exposed to inordinately large numbers of pathogens, from which they have little defense.

In order to eradicate infectious disease from a nation, you also have to first address compromised immune systems. If you hit immune suppressed children with a potent, adjuvant-loaded vaccine, you're far more likely to create new disease, not eradicate it. With all of the billions being poured into vaccines to “save” the children, how many water purification systems could have been built? How many sanitation facilities? How many rations of meat and fresh produce?

US Infant Mortality Rate is High Among Developed Countries

It’s not only the developing world that could use improvements to protect its children. The infant mortality rate in the US is absolutely abysmal, at more than six infants deaths per 1,000 births. This is a higher infant mortality rate than 27 other wealthy countries.12 This despite having "the best" medicine in the world—and spending more than any other country on health care to boot. As reported by the Washington Post:13

A baby born in the U.S. is nearly three times as likely to die during her first year of life as one born in Finland or Japan. That same American baby is about twice as likely to die in her first year as a Spanish or Korean one. Despite healthcare spending levels that are significantly higher than any other country in the world, a baby born in the U.S. is less likely to see his first birthday than one born in Hungary, Poland or Slovakia. Or in Belarus. Or in Cuba, for that matter.”

Research has found "a high statistically significant correlation between increasing numbers of vaccine doses and increasing infant mortality rates."14 And in the US, doctors give American babies 26 doses of vaccines before age 1, which is twice as many vaccinations as babies in Sweden and Japan get. Still, this is only part of the picture. Some of the high mortality rate is due to early premature births, which may be classified as a miscarriage or still birth in other countries, but which are noted as live births in the US. There is also a wide gap in infant mortality according to socio-economic status, with mortality rates among infants born to wealthy Americans much lower than those born to disadvantaged mothers.15

Hospital-Acquired Infections and Antibiotic Resistance Represent Major Threats

While developing countries struggle with access to clean water and soap in their health-care facilities, the US, which has widespread access to both, is still struggling with infectious disease. Hospitals have become particularly notorious for spreading lethal infections. According to the most recent report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hospital-acquired infections now affect one in 25 patients.16,17

In 2011, an estimated 722,000 patients contracted an infection during a stay in an acute care hospital in the US, and about 75,000 of them died as a result of it. That amounts to just over 205 deaths from hospital-acquired infections every day of the year! Believing an antibiotic will cure your infection is taken for granted by most people in developed countries nowadays, but that is rapidly changing, as evidenced by current statistics. Antibiotic overuse and inappropriate use bear a heavy responsibility for creating the superbug crisis we are facing today.

But the pervasive misuse of antibiotics by the agriculture industry plays an even more significant role. Agriculture accounts for about 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the US. According to a landmark "Antibiotic Resistance Threat Report" published by the CDC, a staggering 2 million American adults and children become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and at least 23,000 of them die as a direct result of those infections.18 Unfortunately, hospital settings are undoubtedly among the most dangerous of places when it comes to contracting an antibiotic-resistant infection.

According to the Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA), just one organism—methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, better known as MRSA—kills more Americans each year than the combined total of emphysema, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, and homicide.19 The real death toll could be much higher, however, because no one is tracking the full extent of antibiotic-resistant infections in the US.

Help Support Worldwide Access to Clean Water, Sanitation and Proper Hygiene

Proper health can only be achieved if you lay down a solid foundation of healthy food, clean water, proper sanitation facilities/toilets and hygiene. Even Bill Gates himself has admitted that vaccines alone don't eradicate disease. In a Wall Street Journal article about the resurgence of polio in African countries, Gates said that's why he is revamping his disease fight to incorporate health, hygiene, and clean drinking water programs into vaccination programs.20 Polio spreads, after all, largely through feces-contaminated water, so ignoring that major risk factor while trying to eradicate the disease is ignorant, to put it nicely.

Along those lines, WaterAid’s mission is to secure access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene to everyone, everywhere by 2030. They note that for every $1 invested in water and sanitation, an average of $4 is returned in increased productivity, and that’s saying nothing about the lives saved as well. If you’d like to get involved, you can send a message to the US government, urging them to prioritize safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene as part of its global Sustainable Development Goals.

As noted by WaterAid, in 2013, more than 2.7 million babies died in their first four weeks of life, and one in 10 children in Sub-Saharan Africa will not reach their fifth birthday. Access to clean water and sanitation could change that. Meanwhile, if you live in the US, remember the importance of bolstering a healthy immune system as your first line of defense against infectious disease.