An assessment of handwashing promotion in South Asia during COVID-19

Posted by
COVID-19, Hygiene
Encouraging handwashing through the COVID-19 response. India. March 2020
Image: WaterAid

Are messages reaching everyone, consistently understood, and achievable?

During the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, governments and development partners have been promoting handwashing with soap on an unprecedented scale through mass and social media campaigns and other channels. However, there is a lack of real-time information on the effectiveness of these campaigns and whether they are reaching everyone. To address this, we conducted rapid research studies in four countries (Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan) during May and June 2020.  

The research found that:

  • The overall reach of mass media campaigns has been very high, most people found the messages clear, and most respondents knew of the importance of handwashing with soap and water. 
  • However, it identified key gaps – in particular awareness of critical times for handwashing to protect against COVID-19 transmission, exposing the limitations of mass media campaigns in communicating new and more nuanced behaviour.
  • Immediate behaviour change has primarily been triggered by fear, which may not be sustained as the risk (or perceived risk) of COVID-19 reduces. It is essential that large-scale hygiene promotion continues and applies different emotional triggers to motivate hand hygiene practice and sustain behaviour change.
  • A significant proportion of some marginalised and vulnerable communities face challenges in washing their hands at home. Access to a reliable water supply, affordable soap and accessible handwashing devices urgently needs addressing.  
  • In public places handwashing facilities frequently do not exist or are non-functional, and this will require substantial financing and appropriate management models to rectify, facilitating good hand hygiene outside the home.

You can download full details of the research below for each country. In addition, the regional synthesis report presents common findings, highlights where differences occur, and puts forward a series of policy and programme recommendations.