By: Dorine Awuour, Community Health Outreach Program
Handwashing is one of the most effective ways to address preventable deaths and illnesses resulting from a range of infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, proper handwashing with soap and water could reduce diarrheal disease-related deaths by up to 50% and respiratory infections by 16%. In addition to its effectiveness, handwashing is an inexpensive, preventative public health measure that can be implemented in diverse areas worldwide. Each year, governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and individuals gather to celebrate Global Handwashing Day on October 15 to encourage and promote effective handwashing behaviors in their communities. This year’s theme focused on inclusivity for all in handwashing, advocating for access to clean water and soap for all.
CFK’s WASH initiatives, implemented through our Community Health Outreach program, have proactively promoted handwashing behavior both in schools and the community for the past four years. With the emergence of COVID-19, the program increased its community handwashing activities by making soap and installing additional handwashing facilities throughout the community and at individual household levels.
Implementing WASH Initiatives in Schools
After seven months of shut-down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools in Kenya slowly began to re-open in October 2020, facing various challenges related to sanitation and hygiene. In the past, informal schools in Kibera lacked handwashing facilities and struggled to promote hygiene among students, but the added threat of the coronavirus made WASH a top priority for schools.
To address the growing needs effectively, CFK’s Best Schools Initiative (BSI) conducted a survey with its partner informal schools to gauge their preparedness for school re-opening amid the pandemic. Most schools were not fully prepared, and many requested handwashing facilities. With Global Handwashing Day approaching, our Community Outreach Program staff visited two of these schools to increase awareness on the importance of hand hygiene and demonstrate the steps of proper handwashing. They also distributed three liters of soap and two, 100-liter handwashing facilities. Dedicated to providing more sustainable WASH solutions for schools, the BSI is hoping to install more handwashing facilities and teach school leaders how to make soap.
Making Handwashing Accessible for All
In celebration of Global Handwashing Day, CFK collaborated with various partners in Kibera and the Ministry of Health’s Public Health Officer to sensitize the community on the importance of hand hygiene. During the community activities in Lindi, we visited public handwashing stations to observe the frequency of their use and demonstrated proper handwashing techniques. Staff concluded the event by distributing 100 units of 500ml liquid soap to community members who were washing their hands at the public handwashing stations.
While Global Handwashing Day has passed this year, a new handwashing culture has emerged around the world and may disrupt traditional disease patterns moving forward. Soap and clean water are still luxuries for many living in urban informal settlements like Kibera, but greater community sensitization, investment in WASH activities, and NGO involvement can make handwashing more accessible for all.