Water, soap, and love: HBCC campaigns focus on people with disabilities

Themes: Behaviour change Community management Health impact Hygiene WASH Water
Countries: Ghana Kenya

Hygiene campaigns like no other, based on water, soap, and love. As part of the second edition of the HBCC (Hygiene and Behaviour Change Coalition), in Ghana and Kenya, WSUP planned and executed activities for a particularly vulnerable group of people: those with some kind of disability. From men and women who cannot see or hear to those with mobility issues, people who often feel neglected have received messages and practical sessions around the importance of regular and correct hygiene practices.

The HBCC programme, a public-private partnership involving Unilever and the UK Government’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), was initially set up as an effort to increase resilience against transmission of the Covid-19 virus. Its second version was implemented between April 2022 and March 2023, with WSUP leading activities in Ghana and Kenya focused on all benefits brought by hygiene practices, including protection against several diseases, from Covid to cholera.

In both countries, activities involved working with national and municipal governments, plus other government agencies, to produce and deliver campaign messages. There were mass media campaigns across national TV and regional radio stations, at information centres, and throughout community-level media. Interpersonal campaigns, in particular, ensured the inclusivity of the project by targeting persons living with disabilities (PWDs).

Abigail Ansong (centre) demonstrates to children from Tetteh Ocloo School for the Deaf how to wash hands with water and soap

“Here in the deaf school, they learn through demonstration,” says Abigail Ansong, teacher at the Tetteh Ocloo School for the Deaf, in Tema West, Greater Accra, Ghana. “Because handwashing involved demonstration and practice, it really helped them to learn fast.”

In partnership with the Health Promotion Division of the Ghana Health Service (GHS) and the Ghana Federation of Disability Organizations (GFD), WSUP delivered key messages on Covid-19, promoted proper hand hygiene practices, and donated hygiene material in 12 selected PWD centres and schools across Greater Accra, Eastern, Western, Ashanti and Northern regions. The material distributed included handwashing stations, soaps, sanitizers, hand tissues, waste bins, and water storage tanks.

The students or residents who benefitted from the campaigns had physical, mobility, visual or hearing impairments, or some kind of mental health or developmental issue. Teachers provided sign language interpretation, alongside appropriate communication material such as flyers, posters, and sign language aids. Other professionals participating in the campaign included special education coordinators from Ghana Education Service and Social Welfare officers from the Department of Social Welfare.

For people with severe learning difficulties, particularly those from low-income families, even the most basic instructions had immense value and helped students to advance, says Setumte Ametewee, Headmaster of the Mampong Demo School for the Deaf. “Special schools are kind of being left behind all the time. If you look at the backgrounds, many have come from very deprived backgrounds.”

In Ghana, HBCC-2 reached a total of 3,616 people living with disabilities, across all selected schools and centres.

Messages for visually impaired people were adapted to braille, in partnership with the Kenyan Society for the Blind

Read also: HBCC and menstrual hygiene

“Many physical challenges”

The implementation of HBCC-2 in Kenya expanded an approach initiated in the first edition of the hygiene programme. Having  previously worked with organisations dealing with people with disabilities, WSUP’s teams were able to use their connections, skills, and experience to  reach this audience via digital tools and mobile phone communications.

“People did not know the correct way of washing hands. And, as blind people, basically we rely on touch, purely”, says Ivan Odera Omondi, Advocacy Officer for the Kenya Society for the Blind (KSB). “WSUP involved us in the design of any material that was going out. It is more effective and more impactful to have one person with visual impairment training other persons with visual impairment on matters which are related to them.”

In both Ghana and Kenya, one of the main messages of the programme was the need to wash hands following crucial rules. In activities at schools, that was presented as the “School of 5” – washing hands before breakfast, lunch, dinner, during bath, and after going to the bathroom – with assets translated into braille format for those with severe visual impairment. The material was offered to schools in the capital, Nairobi, and the counties of Kilifi, Kisumu, and Kwale.

Fun and special care

Alongside local specialists, the WSUP’s teams adopted the best ways to engage audiences in the sessions, which in the case of children meant a much less serious approach. “When WSUP came in, they helped a lot, because they’ve made this learning, of washing hands, become fun,” says Lilian Ngandu, Teacher in Charge at the Special Unit of the Star of Hope school, in Nairobi.

“These children have many physical challenges. For some of them, their hands are shaky, for others their hands are not well formed, so you have to attend to them, individually, so you can train them how to wash their hands.” This special care, according to her, has worked. “We have done it, and I can see that all of them now can wash their hands well.”

On top of practical guidelines about handwashing with water and soap, one issue highlighted through the messages was the importance of the Covid-19 vaccine uptake and the benefits of vaccination to prevent the spread of the disease. This required debunking false myths about the immunisation, such as the idea that it could cause numbness in the hands – something which, for people already with a disability such as visual impairment, was particularly concerning.

Mum’s Magic Hands for households

Caring for someone with a serious disability at home is usually a quite demanding task. “Staying with children with disabilities is a challenge”, says Eunice Mutinda, a mother who has been trained as part of HBCC. “If you don’t have someone giving you advice, on how to live with that child, it becomes quite challenging for the parent.” She says the campaign has made a difference. “The training has helped me so much.”

WSUP’s teams in Kenya engaged with households where there was at least one person with a disability, a task done with help from representative associations or local government authorities, such as the Community Rehabilitation Assistants (CRAs) – volunteers assigned specifically to households with PWDs.

The CRAs and Community Health Volunteers from Association of People Living with Disability in Kenya (APDK) were trained both on the School of 5 approach and a hygiene activity aimed at mothers: the Mum’s Magic Hands – 5 other rules a mum should follow: wash your hands after visiting the toilet; after changing a baby’s diapers; before cooking; before feeding a baby; and always do it with both water and soap.

Those trained then cascaded the learnings in 1,640 households with PWDs and schools with 900 visually impaired learners. In both Ghana and Kenya, HBCC overcame barriers in communication and mobility in order to spread messages about proper hygiene practices, particularly the importance of regular handwashing with water and soap. This is even more clear amongst groups who use their hands constantly.

“What you see, they use their hands to get that information,” says Veronica Dery, the Headmistress of the Akropong School for the Blind, in Akropong, Eastern Region of Ghana, about her students. “If you come and observe the way we walk around, you don’t see one walking alone. Most of times, we walk in groups, and that is all about touch.” This reality, says Dery, makes handwashing even more vital. “Handwashing in this school is very necessary and important.”

Top image: Handwashing session at Accra Rehabilitation Centre, in Accra, Ghana (credit: LHI Studios)

Watch: the first phase of HBCC