This year, on Global Handwashing Day, the need for everyone to be able to wash their hands with soap has never been clearer.
The devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have shown the importance of universal hand hygiene as the simplest and most effective way to prevent the spread of a virus. For low-income communities around the world, the simple act of washing your hands with soap could save countless lives from Covid-19.
Handwashing has saved millions of people from diseases like cholera, diarrhoea, and dysentery and yet, over 40% of the world’s population lacks access to basic handwashing facilities – including 900 million school-aged children.
WSUP has been working this year to reach those urban communities most at risk from Covid-19, where high population density and lack of access to handwashing facilities mean the virus has the potential to spread quickly.
We are using our long-standing relationships with water service providers to help them reach communities with messaging about handwashing and hygiene, soap and hand sanitiser and to adapt communications channels to meet the long-term challenges of the pandemic.
By working this way, we have already reached over 500,000 people in low-income urban areas across Ghana and Kenya since the outbreak of Covid-19.
Reaching vulnerable people through community radio
Where local lockdowns have been in effect in Ghana, WSUP has worked alongside the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA) to reach low-income communities remotely through community radio stations, a key communications channel in Ghana.
Representatives from CWSA have taken part in radio and online interviews ahead of Global Handwashing Day to discuss handwashing and its importance in helping Ghanaians prevent the spread of Covid-19.
This will ensure crucial messaging around handwashing and good hygiene can reach communities where Covid-19 restrictions mean face-to-face communication is not currently possible.
WSUP has also been working with CWSA and local authorities in Accra, Kumasi and Tamale to identify locations for new handwashing stations. This will enable low-income residents to practice the positive hygiene behaviours promoted on Global Handwashing Day.
Protecting vulnerable groups from stigmatisation
A top priority is ensuring that all segments of the population have the ability to access information and understand the specific risks around Covid-19. In Kenya, community groups have reported that inaccurate understanding of how the disease is transmitted has led to people being disabilities being unfairly stigmatised, because of the false beliefs that these groups of people are more likely to be infected than other groups.
“The other day I was leaving the house and someone – an adult – called me Corona,” says Belinda Adhiambo, a member of the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya (APDK). “I realised that there was an education gap around persons with disability and Covid-19.”
WSUP has worked with APDK and other community-based organisations to run train the trainer sessions on handwashing and good hygiene, helping increase understanding of how best to protect against Covid-19. “It is up to me now to pass on the message and make sure no-one gets left behind.”
Strengthening online platforms to help utilities adapt to Covid-19 restrictions
As well as focusing on handwashing, WSUP has been seeking ways to minimise risk of transmission through improved hygiene more generally. In Kenya, WSUP has been working with water service providers to strengthen and extend the online services they offer to customers in low-income areas.
This has reduced the risk of Covid-19 transmission as customers do not need to visit utility offices to pay bills and utility staff do not need to visit households to conduct meter readings.
These improved online services will also enable new customers to sign up to services online and existing customers to quickly report leaks or burst pipes in the network. Once in place, these remote service systems will provide long-term support to utilities and their customers, ensuring essential water services can continue during the pandemic.
WSUP’s handwashing and hygiene work in Ghana and Kenya has been supported by the Hygiene Behaviour Change Coalition, led by Unilever and the UK government.