WaterAid’s hygiene response to COVID-19: programmatic technical learning brief

Roger Kigenza (26 left), Louise Mukeshimana (28, middle) and Habimana Jules (24, right), the community members washing their hands at one of the new handwashing facilities at the handover ceremony at Kinyinya Health Centre, Gasabo District, Kigali Cit ...
Image: WaterAid/ Kwizera Emmanuel

The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the importance of good hygiene practices, particularly washing hands with soap, to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. The pandemic has also been a stark reminder of the inequalities in access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). The last two years have made clear that hygiene behaviour change is critical in all settings, and that governments and others should not wait for another health crisis to invest in and promote hygiene behaviours, together with the COVID-19 vaccine.

Since March 2020, we have been leveraging our ongoing behaviour change programmes across Asia, Africa, and Latin America to promote handwashing with soap as one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious disease. Our response was evidence-based, using a behaviour-centred design approach, and covered 26 countries.

Our branded and trusted hygiene campaign reached 181 million people through mass media and community-based hygiene campaigns. We distributed 1.8 million hygiene products, including soap and sanitiser, and installed 2,700 large-scale handwashing facilities in key public places.

This brief explores our at-scale implementation and the lessons learned from our hygiene response to COVID-19. It has been produced for country programmes, technical staff, partners, donors and other relevant stakeholders. It includes the key COVID-19 principles to follow when implementing hygiene programmes, such as:

  • having a clear Theory of Change and a process for design and implementation

  • focusing on key behaviours

  • integrating programmes to improve them and reach more people

  • following a systems strengthening approach

  • installing innovative and inclusive handwashing facilities, with operation and maintenance plans in place

  • putting sustainability at the heart of the programme

  • embedding equality and inclusion from the start

  • monitoring and evaluating to ensure programmes are data-driven and successful in the long-term

This brief also notes that behaviour change principles can be followed, even during an emergency hygiene response. To do this, campaigns should:

  • be evidence-based and backed by science

  • focus on people’s emotions and motivational drivers, as well as social norms

  • reach people often, and in different ways

  • be trusted for people to adopt good hygiene behaviours

  • be progressive to avoid campaign fatigue

  • focus on inclusivity and sustainability

  • think big, act at scale, and ensure long-term financing

Top image: Roger Kigenza, Louise Mukeshimana and Habimana Jules wash their hands at one of the new handwashing facilities at Kinyinya Health Centre, Kigali, Rwanda. December 2020.