Frequent handwashing with soap is one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

What is COVID-19?

Coronaviruses are a group of contagious, flu-like viruses. They cause symptoms that can be as mild as a common cold but in some cases can be fatal. COVID-19 is a new type of coronavirus that is spreading quickly around the world. Early symptoms include fever, cough and difficulty in breathing – similar to other flu-like illnesses. 

With specific treatments or a vaccine not yet available, preventing its spread from person to person is vital to reduce the outbreak's impact on people’s lives, health, livelihoods and the healthcare systems we all rely on.

Handwashing is key to preventing coronavirus

Frequent, thorough handwashing with soap and water is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19. Like a cold, coronaviruses are spread through droplets from a person coughing or sneezing, and potentially via contaminated surfaces. Good hygiene is key to avoiding spreading it – and catching it.

Along with other important behaviours, thoroughly washing hands often and at key moments is essential to controlling the pandemic. The graphic below shows five key steps you should take to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 between people. 

A poster showing six behaviours key to preventing spread of coronavirus: washing hands with soap & water regularly & before eating, cooking, feeding or touching the face & after using the toilet or touching anything dirty or potentially contaminated; covering nose & mouth when coughing or sneezing; avoiding close contact with anyone who is unwell or confirmed cases; clean all highly touched surfaces daily; self-isolate & seek medical care if unwell.
WaterAid
Key behaviours to prevent the spread of coronavirus

Two of these behaviours – handwashing with soap and food hygiene – are part of the regular hygiene promotion work we have done for decades. The other four are also important to protect people from COVID-19, and all must be adhered to for complete protection.

Ensuring handwashing for all to save lives from COVID-19

Our hygiene and programmes experts discuss the importance of handwashing with soap and water in reducing the risk of coronavirus infection, and highlight what the WASH sector can and should do in response to the pandemic to ensure everyone can wash their hands properly.

WaterAid/ Sibtain Haider

Impact of coronavirus where we work

In many low- and middle-income countries, high numbers of people do not have soap and water to wash their hands or clean with, and knowledge of how and why to wash hands properly is not widespread. In least developed countries, nearly 3 in 4 people have nowhere at home to wash their hands with soap and water. This creates a higher risk of illnesses and diseases spreading – including coronavirus.

The COVID-19 outbreak has so far mostly affected high-income countries, in many cases severely impacting on communities and healthcare systems. If it takes hold in low- and middle-income countries with limited water, sanitation and hygiene services, and where healthcare facilities and people are far less equipped to control or effectively treat infections, the consequences could be much worse. We will be working hard to help prevent the spread. Find out how >

43% of healthcare facilities globally lack hand hygiene at the point of care where doctors and nurses are treating patients, and only 55% of healthcare facilities in least developed countries have a basic water service. To curb the spread of coronavirus in these countries, that must change.

Watch our short film explaining the importance of handwashing:

What we are doing about coronavirus

Promoting good hygiene has been a core part of our work since WaterAid began. We are experts in working with governments, communities and partners to improve WASH facilities, and instill hygiene behaviour changes that mean people can get the most out of improvements.

In the face of the threat of coronavirus, we are scaling up our efforts to promote hygiene, including improve handwashing with soap. And we will be installing handwashing facilities in areas where people need them most, making it easier for them to keep their hands clean and protect themselves. This is the moment we all need to act together to change people’s hygiene behaviours for a generation on a massive scale.

We are using our expertise to provide technical support and advice to governments and government-led mechanisms to promote hygiene in countries where we work, campaigning to control or prevent the spread of COVID-19. At the heart of this will be promoting the importance of good hygiene to the public, including handwashing with soap, using digital and social media to amplify hygiene messages. To avoid spreading the virus ourselves, we will not carry out hygiene promotion in person within communities in the first phase of our response.

As we support community, national and global responses, we will keep equality, inclusion and rights at the centre of efforts, to meet the needs of the most marginalised people.

We will continue our ongoing hygiene behaviour change work, supporting people in their homes, schools and healthcare facilities to improve habits so they can enjoy the full benefits of clean water and decent sanitation. 

What you can do