Preventing COVID-19 Through Handwashing

FROM: Becky Neely – 23. June 2021

The pandemic has brought a renewed focus to the role of hygiene in disease prevention, while highlighting the pervasive struggle faced by millions of people in low-income countries without ready access to water, much less a handwashing facility. Helvetas’ funding and implementation partners showed great flexibility in this challenging year by expanding water supply projects to include funding for COVID-19 responses such as personal protective equipment, handwashing stations and awareness campaigns.

Frequent handwashing with soap has been promoted as an effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But in many of our partner communities, water is accessed from communal systems where cross-contamination increases the risk of spreading COVID-19 rather than containing it.

With support from charity: water, the Helvetas Nepal team worked with sanitation entrepreneurs to design a simple prototype of a touch-free handwashing station that could be used at public facilities such as schools and healthcare centers. The handwashing station, which is manufactured locally, has an iron frame that supports a 500-liter tank. Two pedals are at the bottom of the iron frame; one pedal releases liquid soap and the other pedal releases water. This design eliminates the risk brought by many hands having contact with the same tap and soap container.

The pedal-powered handwashing station also curbs water wastage—a critical factor in communities with limited water supply. As a COVID-19 prevention measure, the World Health Organization recommends handwashing with soap and water for 20-30 seconds. This requires a significant quantity of water; if a tap stays open for 20-30 seconds, 2-3 liters of water will be used to wash one pair of hands. The pedal-pump station reduces the amount of water needed by using the pedal to quickly wet hands and then again to wash off the soap.

Handwashing stations have been installed at 46 health centers and 187 schools in Nepal. “Up to now we had only one plastic bucket provided by the municipality for handwashing,” said the Public Health Supervisor of the Satakhani Health Post in Lekbesi. “This is very easy technology to operate and being hand contactless, it may reduce disease transmission.”

This effective design has made its way across continents to Bolivia, where local partners have successfully replicated the pedal-pump station at public facilities and in common spaces.

Household Connections End Long Walks for Water

The handwashing stations offer a means for fighting COVID-19 at a community level, but it is difficult to practice good hygiene or be convinced of its benefits if your household lacks convenient, reliable access to a supply of safe water.

In the rural village of Dewaldanda in the Subhakalika municipality, residents used to make about five trips each day to fetch water, and the nearest source of clean water was a half hour away. Families spent an average of 2.5 hours per day gathering water—and sometimes far more when there were long lines at the spring that serves as the village water source. The water gathered had to be prioritized for drinking and cooking; the limited supply could not meet other household needs, leaving families at recurring risk for sickness and disease.

With the support of charity: water and local partners, Helvetas helped install tapstands, water filters and handwashing stations at every household in Dewaldanda. The project improved access to safe water across a total of 40 communities, connecting 3,192 households to a safe, reliable water supply that offered a means to stave off the spread of COVID-19 and freeing hours each day for families to pursue other activities.

«“All my family members have started paying attention to hygiene, even my small grandson. Now we have the tapstand with a handwashing station and make sure to put soap there, even such a small child has started to wash his hands.”»

-Lal Bahadur, a resident of Dungeshwor municipality and the chairperson of his village Water Users and Sanitation Committee

Read the 2020 Annual Report for additional stories of the 149 projects where Helvetas provided emergency humanitarian aid and supported local actors in alleviating the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.