Staying healthy in Bangladesh through improved hygiene practices

Themes: Behaviour change Hygiene
Countries: Bangladesh

In Tajpur Wali Ahmad primary school, on the outskirts of Bangladesh’s second city Chittagong, Hidoy Ranjan has played his part in teaching hundreds of children the benefits of handwashing with soap.

As hygiene coordinator, Hidoy is responsible for coordinating the school’s handwashing stations and making sure that the 300 school children know about the importance of good hygiene.

‘’Improving hygiene practice is an essential activity for our students,” says Hidoy. “In this way they learn how to be healthy and ready for learning.”

It was Ridoy’s idea to introduce a hygiene corner: a focal point for hygiene promotion. ‘’We stock soap, napkins, first aid box, hygiene and health related information, education and communication (IEC) materials, scales, measuring tape and deworming tablets, so that students have easy access to hygiene services.”

Because, like many schools in Bangladesh, running water from a tap is limited, the school also acquired two handwashing devices: a plastic water-filled drum with a tap.

“Our initiative is small but the result is vast”

The initial training, led by WSUP’s partner OPCA, was in February 2016. Now, 20 months later, the scheme is still going strong with the support not just of Hidoy Ranjan but the school’s “little doctors” – schoolchildren nominated and trained to promote good hygiene practices.

‘’Our initiative is small but the result is vast,” says Hidoy. “Now the students are more aware of improved hygiene practices, and diarrhoeal disease is reduced. Their parents have also become more aware about hygiene practices, which they learnt from their kids.”

WSUP’s handwashing promotion in schools is delivered through the South Asia WASH Results (SAWR) programme, a payment-by-results programme led by Plan International UK which aims to improve the lives of millions of people in Bangladesh and Pakistan through water and sanitation. The programme is funded by the Department for International Development.

Working with school management committees, to help them prioritise hygiene education, has been an important part of our approach. And then, spreading the word about success like that seen in Tajpur Wali Ahmad school, can help expand the impact:

“By sharing the learning with other head teachers in the surrounding sub-district, we have been able to influence the creation of further hygiene corners in schools,” says Nabinur Rahman, WSUP Project Manager for SAWR.

We are also engaging closely with government ministries and departments like the Directorate of Primary Education, Directorate of Health and the Department of Public Health Engineering, supporting policy changes that can have a lasting impact on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in schools.

Why handwashing with soap matters

Handwashing with soap is a vital habit for urban children to adopt. It’s not uncommon, in cities where WSUP works around the world, for there to be just one functioning toilet for every 300 children. And in cramped urban schools, diseases can be passed on rapidly. Handwashing with soap, therefore, is a key way to combat the spread of diarrheal and respiratory disease.

Through SAWR, WSUP has delivered a handwashing campaign in primary schools in partnership with Unilever – working intensively in around 1,400 schools and providing lighter support in a further 12,000.

Promotion activities on Global Handwashing Day 2016

“WSUP is a key partner for Unilever in our work to achieve the Sustainable Living Plan targets, through collaborative action with Lifebuoy and other brands, to embed long-term behaviour change, reduce diarrhoeal disease through regular handwashing with soap, and develop sustainable water and sanitation services for the poorest consumers,” says Rebecca Marmot, Global Vice-President, Advocacy and Partnerships, Unilever.

Our work under the SAWR programme forms part of WSUP’s global focus on schools, where we have reached a total of 2.6 million children with hygiene education sessions and campaigns.

Supporting change in Bangladesh

Our research has shown that 95% of Bangladeshi schools have less than one toilet per 50 students, and only 37% of schools have facilities for children to wash their hands with soap. So as well as teaching children, we have focused on improving the facilities in schools, and in particular, increasing the number of working handwashing stations.

Here are some of our results:

  • We provided training to 21,000 school children, or ‘little doctors’, in hygiene promotion. The little doctors are helping to strengthen practices in schools, as well as disseminating hygiene messages among their family and friends.
  • We created a database of the WASH needs and status in 14,000 schools, providing an effective decision-making tool for the government, development partners and donors to help design a school WASH programme.
  • With the support of school management committees and local communities, 250 schools have gone on to install handwashing facilities: demonstrating that it is possible for local communities to support sustainable improvements in schools.
  • Based on our insights through the programme, we produced a manual on hygiene promotion – which with the Bangladesh government’s support was shared with every one of the country’s 70,000 primary schools. The manual will help schools to make handwashing with soap a more common practice, as well as improve the design and usage of sanitation facilities, enabling hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren to lead healthier lives.

Read more about our work in Bangladesh.