Do 50 people die every hour from diseases related to poor hygiene?

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A TV commercial for Hypo Homecare Products, a household cleaning brand in Nigeria, draws attention to an alarming statistic about poor hygiene and death.

“Every hour, 50 people die as a result of diseases related to poor toilet hygiene – WHO,” the ad for Hypo toilet cleaner warns. It has been viewed nearly 680,000 times on YouTube. 

The World Health Organization, or WHO, is the United Nations agency responsible for global public health.

Is this statistic correct?

Africa Check has asked Hypo’s media team what diseases are referred to in the claim and if the number of deaths is for Nigeria only or globally. We will update this report when we hear back. 

We also reached out to Rick Johnston, a technical officer at the WHO/Unicef joint monitoring programme for water supply, sanitation and hygiene.

Johnston said the WHO has estimates of the burden of disease attributable to unsafe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene (abbreviated to “WASH”). 

“I don’t know if someone from WHO has said that ‘every hour, 50 people die as a result of diseases related to poor hygiene’. However, from our analysis this is quite close to [our] figure of 61 deaths per hour.”

Johnston referred us to the WHO’s website, a journal paper and a primer for health professionals for the data.

It showed that 1.2 million deaths globally were caused by unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene in 2016.

The largest contributor was diarrhoeal disease, which caused 828,651 deaths, followed by acute respiratory infections, responsible for 370,370 deaths.

WASH-attributable diarrhea deaths could be related to poor water, sanitation or hygiene or a combination, while WASH-attributable acute respiratory infection deaths were only linked to poor hygiene, according to the WHO. Acute respiratory infections included pneumonia, bronchiolitis and influenza.

“If we group the diarrhoeal deaths attributable to poor hygiene (165,198) with the acute respiratory infection deaths, we have a total of 535,568 deaths [a year] attributable to poor hygiene from these two diseases, which translates to an average of 61 deaths per hour,” Johnston said. 

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He added that, because this did not include any other diseases that poor hygiene contributed to, the average was “a very conservative estimate”.

Prof Tanimola Akande is a public health physician and epidemiologist at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital in western Nigeria’s Kwara state. 

He said deaths from poor hygiene were mostly a problem of developing countries and that they were related to poverty, poor enforcement of environmental hygiene, and poor personal hygiene practices. 

He said to reduce these deaths, the following should be done:

  • Reduce poverty broadly through various strategies
  • Increase awareness of hygiene-attributable diseases
  • Reintroduce personal hygiene awareness and practices in schools

Akande said that official agencies would need to step up the enforcement of environmental hygiene. “This will include regular and appropriate waste disposal.”

Nanpet Chuktu is a development expert in water, sanitation and hygiene. He told Africa Check that a prevention campaign was needed to prevent illness, similar to the one done at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The government needs to be seen to be actively supporting handwashing facilities in public places to drive home the message of handwashing as a preventive measure,” Chuktu said.

The government should also invest in the water supply. “Where there is water available, and people are conscious of the value of handwashing, they will wash their hands with soap and water.”

Conclusion: More than 50 people an hour die because of poor hygiene 

Fifty people die every hour due to diseases related to poor hygiene, a major maker of cleaning products in Nigeria claims in a popular commercial. 

Hypo Homecare Products attributed this statistic to the World Health Organization. 

WHO told Africa Check their data shows the number is even higher, at approximately 61 deaths every hour. Experts we spoke to called for a range of strategies to reduce these deaths, from increased public awareness to more investment in clean water. 

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