Clean Hands for All: addressing handwashing disparities

Themes: Behaviour change Health impact Hygiene WASH

In cities, though the coverage of basic handwashing facilities is higher compared to rural areas, there are significant gaps between the richest and poorest.

In fact, in many countries, basic services in the most deprived urban communities are actually worse than in rural areas.

Inequalities in handwashing facilities can put individuals at higher risk, impacting their health, education, and well-being.

Globally, 272 million school days are missed every year because of diarrhoea caused by poor hygiene practices and lack of facilities. Handwashing with soap is vital to combat the spread of diseases. WSUP works to improve handwashing facilities in schools and promote handwashing with soap as this has the greatest impact on children’s health.

Here’s how WSUP is addressing the issue:

In Madagascar, thanks to the support of funders like Dubai Cares, USAID and The Coca-Cola Foundation, as well as the utility JIRAMA, improved handwashing facilities are enabling children like Mitia lead healthier lives.

Previously, Mitia and the other students in her school would have to draw water from a well and would have to wait for their teachers to help them because the buckets were too heavy. Due to the time spent on collecting water, some of the children would not wash their hands and would go straight into class.

Now thanks to the new sanitation block and the weekly hygiene lessons, the students understand the importance of maintaining good hygiene habits. Mitia, who dreams about becoming a doctor, is always on the lookout for students who don’t wash their hands and reminds them to do so.

“Thank you WSUP for giving this beautiful toilet block which also has a shower and handwashing facilities. It has changed our lives and improved hygiene habits. At home, my parents have also understood the importance of washing our hands with soap.”

In Naivasha, Kenya, students at the Kongoni Primary school were missing out on school due to illnesses caused by poor sanitation facilities in the school.

Simon, the deputy headmaster of the school remarks, “The school used to have a few latrines that were shared between the boys and the girls in the school.  Sanitation was a problem. On average we had 12 – 15 students going to hospital for stomach related illness due to poor facilities.”

With the support of The One Foundation, a new toilet block with handwashing facilities were built for the students.

“The number of cases of sanitation related illness has reduced. We encourage the students to wash their hands after using the toilet. The water after washing hands is recycled used to flush the toilets and water the trees and flowers,” says Simon.

Student Charity is very pleased with the new facilities, “After the building of the new toilet blocks, the girls have more confidence and they enjoy their privacy. We are more comfortable. We now use the new blocks and wash our hands.”

Ensuring access to hygiene facilities is important but is only a first step. Behaviour change is essential for making handwashing a habit.

What better way to do this than involving children in soap-making while teaching them to wash their hands thoroughly at critical times. In Maputo, Mozambique, with the support of Wasser für Wasser, WSUP is partnering with local soap manufacturer MBEU to promote hygiene education in schools. Through soap-making workshops, children are learning about the importance of good hygiene habits in a fun and interactive way. MBEU will also be supplying soaps to the schools we work with in Maputo, as part of our ongoing hygiene promotion activities.

WSUP also works on behaviour change at the institutional level. For example, In Ghana, we’re working with the Ministry of Education on adoption of standards toilet designs across schools in Accra and Kumasi, taking into account children’s needs, thus benefiting their health and school attendance.

By working with education systems, we can create change that is lasting whilst ensuring that no one is left behind.

Top image: Promoting hygiene awareness in Twalumba primary school as part of the Global Handwashing Day celebrations in Lusaka, Zambia.