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(IANS) Without access to soap and clean water, more than two billion people in low- and middle-income nations have a greater likelihood of acquiring and transmitting the coronavirus than those in wealthy countries, warn researchers.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, revealed that, in 46 countries, more than half of the people lacked access to soap and clean water. In India, China, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Indonesia, more than 50 million persons in each were estimated to be without handwashing access.More than 50 per cent of the people in sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania lacked access to effective handwashing, according to the findings.

"Handwashing is one of the key measures to prevent COVID-19 transmission, yet it is distressing that access is unavailable in many countries that also have limited health care capacity," said study researcher Dr Michael Brauer from the University of Washington in the US. 

coronavirus in china
coronavirus in chinaGetty images

"Temporary fixes, such as hand sanitizer or water trucks, are just that - temporary fixes," Brauer added.

Implementing long-term solutions are needed to protect against COVID-19 and the more than 700,000 deaths each year due to poor handwashing access, the researchers said.

"Even with 25 per cent of the world's population lacking access to effective handwashing facilities, there have been 'substantial improvements in many countries' between 1990 and 2019," Brauer said.

Those countries include Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Nepal, and Tanzania, which have improved their nations' sanitation.The study does not estimate access to handwashing facilities in non-household settings such as schools, workplaces, health care facilities, and other public locations such as markets.

Earlier this month, the World Health Organisation predicted 190,000 people in Africa could die of COVID-19 in the first year of the pandemic, and that upward of 44 million of the continent's 1.3 billion people could be infected with the coronavirus.