Innovations in COVID Series – WASH

by Yann Le Floch | 10 July 2020

Water, Sanitation & Hygiene

One of the first things many of us heard after the COVID outbreak began was “Washing hands is the best thing you can do to stay safe!” While it’s safe to say that proper hand hygiene was not habitual for all of us, some of us have additional structural challenges when it comes to sanitation and hygiene which were further exacerbated by this pandemic. In this collection, we are going to look at the ways National Societies have fought to bring water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) to their communities in order to keep them healthy and safe. 

Sharing Key Information

The Challenge: In order to effectively slow the spread of the virus through WASH, communities need to understand best practices. Engaging and informing communities at large is a challenge, especially since messaging needs and responses are as unique as the individuals they aim to engage. The challenge in messaging effectively is multifaceted: beyond communicating the all essential information and best practices, how do you do so in a way that reaches different needs and sub-populations?

The Response:

Fortunately, National Societies are quite experienced when it comes to engaging and localized messaging to reach vulnerable communities. When it comes to WASH messaging, many National Societies are mobilizing volunteers and sharing messages through existing platforms. There are a couple of examples which stand out which we would like to share which share WASH messaging in informative, interesting, and relatable ways.

The Swiss Red Cross has created a multi-lingual media campaign “Stopp das virus!” featuring a Swiss comedian. The campaign has been translated into 16 languages and the comedian’s bright salmon coloured suit and unibrow has been successfully engaging a wide range of audiences. The videos in the 16 languages can be accessed here.

Looking to target behaviour change in teenagers, who only seem interested in listening to their friends? The British Red Cross has created a collection of coronavirus teaching information specifically for this group which includes handwashing and other infection preventing behaviours. The Portuguese Red Cross has been using their Youth volunteers to run an online #WashYourHands challenge where they nominate different young people to wash their hands, film it, post it, and nominate three more youngsters.

The Cayman Island Red Cross has also released a handwashing music video project where they requested footage of local children washing their hands and compiled it into a music video in order to reach that age group. In Croatia, the National Society’s youth volunteering department created a short video with local actors, musicians and puppeteers to create a short handwashing video for kids. Recently, they’ve also been working to develop a handwashing puzzle and an illustrated children’s book for preschool age children. Outside the RCRC Movement, a Comic Book for Kid’s & Corona features handwashing on page 7 and other hygiene tips on page 6.

What about WASH education to other vulnerable groups? When it comes to accessing the elderly, the Croatian Red Cross has been distributing over half a million leaflets on handwashing in order to reach those not on social media. The Croatian RCS has also been bringing these handwashing leaflets to migrants in reception centres. The Hellenic Red Cross is also focusing on displaying and distributing printed materials on handwashing and other hygiene measures in the camps they are working in. The Kenya Red Cross, on the other hand, has been distributing WASH information through a PA system on buses and drones at refugee camps while they distribute food and other relief items.

In Lebanon, given the circumstances in the country, the National Society cannot risk gathering beneficiaries who are Syrian refugees in Informal Tented Settlements in one place to disseminate hygiene promotion sessions. They could not send WASH volunteers to the field to interact with the beneficiaries, so they came up with different ways to follow up with them. Each LRC branch created Whatsapp groups with the beneficiaries in their regions, and they shared hygiene and health promotion messages, through pictures, videos, and virtual posters. Volunteers also recorded sections about myths and facts and frequently asked questions.

Relevant and relatable messaging goes a long way to encourage behavior change. We’ve also seen great examples outside of the Movement, from handwashing hampsters on TikTok to this poster from Texas, USA, which uses references and languages which feel “local’.

Access to WASH during COVID-19

The Challenge: Beyond ensuring communities understand proper infection prevention techniques, it is essential that they are equipped with the necessary supplies, such as soap and personal hygiene products.

The Response:

As the pandemic has spread around the world, there has been major stockouts and shortages of hygiene and sanitation commodities. This shortage has been disproportionally affecting vulnerable groups who already had limited access to reliable and clean water and sanitation.

Many National Societies are stepping up in their communities to actively distribute such commodities to those in need. In Cambodia, the local Red Cross has reached several thousand people with hygiene-sanitation kits, soap, alcohol disinfection gel, facial masks, and alcohol for surface disinfection. Many National Societies are working in close partnership with other local actors to provide a coordinated distribution. In the Americas, the Paraguayan Red Cross is working closely in schools with their Ministry of Science Education, Ministry of Children and Adolescents, and UNICEF.

Different National Societies are finding ways to meet the needs of different local vulnerable groups. Elderly and isolated? In Montenegro, the National Society has trained 134 volunteers to be home helpers to provide cleaning, washing, personal hygiene support, among other services. Prisoners? Kenya Red Cross has distributed over 11 thousand handwashing materials to prisons and trained almost 40 thousand prison staff and inmates. Refugees and migrants? The Hellenic Red Cross has been providing hygiene kits to migrants at reception centres. The Colombian Red Cross has also launched a fundraising campaign, #YoDonoEnCasa, aimed at supporting the most vulnerable communities in the country, including setting up handwashing stations and distributing safe water.

The provision of supplies is one thing, but what about access to handwashing facilities? Many communities share a singular water source, so how do we support social distancing and maintain access to water? In Mozambique, handwashing points are being set-up across the country, with a focus on areas which the Mozambique Red Cross sees as being places at risk of transmission, such as transportation hubs. They are also actively supporting elderly centres, orphanages, and centres for people with disabilities by equipping these places with hygiene facilities and providing care givers with proper PPE.

In South Sudan, Red Cross volunteers are teaching communities to make “tip taps”, where they fill a small jerry can with water which is hung up and connected by rope so that community members can wash their hands by stepping on a stick which knocks water out of the jerry can. The South Sudan Red Cross has set up over a thousand handwashing stations and have also reached over a million people with their hygiene sessions.

What about when there is a lack of supplies? We’ve been hearing stories of perfumeries, including Givency and Dior, producing hand sanitizer which will be donated to French hospitals. In the Caribbean, distilleries have been moving their alcohol production to make hand sanitizers for local communities. WHO has released a guide for local production of hand sanitizer which many companies have been using.

In North Korea, the DPRK Red Cross has been procuring WATA devices for production of chlorine from saltwater for disinfection in primary healthcare facilities. The DPRK Red Cross is supporting the translation of the user guide into Korean.

What about including communities in the creation of WASH solutions? After the COVID-19 outbreak began, the Kenya Red Cross created a challenge for their volunteers to create a DYI handwashing station. The winning design will be rolled out throughout the country.

Want some more inspiration on WASH innovations during these times?

Jennifer Gilbertson
Norwegian Red Cross
July 10, 2020

Stories supporting the COVID-19 response across the network

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