Intensifying hand hygiene measures in Nepali communities

As WSSCC celebrates this year’s Global Handwashing Day in the series of articles that follows achievements, challenges and innovations around hand hygiene, local hygiene experts in Nepal describe the COVID-19 pandemic as a wake-up call to realize the importance of hand hygiene for all. Here is a story of dogged determination to deliver preventative measures to community members.
Renu Kshetry
83-year-old Bhama Bidhya Paudel, who lives in a small rural community in eastern Nepal, is picking up new habits

Sanitation and hygiene practitioners in Nepal have been intensifying their all-out effort to meet the growing need for good hand hygiene and safety precautions, emphasizing that washing with soap and clean water is one of the key public health practices that can significantly slow the rate of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Bagmati Welfare Society Nepal (BWSN) and the Village Community Development Center (VCDC) kicked off a “total sanitation programme” in February 2020, mobilizing 16 sanitation facilitators and three coordinators across the three municipalities of Hariwon, Ishworpur and Basbariya.

Through door-to-door outreach, the facilitators have provided 12,000 people in the three municipalities with information on preventing coronavirus through hand hygiene. And as a result of intensive lobbying with local government, 10,000 additional households were provided with handwashing stations.

“Handwashing is not just for personal protection. When used properly, hand hygiene becomes part of a communal safety net,” said Prabhat Shrestha, Chief of Environment Sanitation and Sewerage Management at the Department of Water Supply and Sanitation.

“At the community level, washing hands helps hold everything together. Other people’s lives are in your hands,” he said.

83-year-old Bhama Bidhya Paudel, who lives in a small rural community in eastern Nepal, is picking up new habits. Thanks to her eight-year-old granddaughter Prabesika, she has learned the importance of hygiene in preventing coronavirus and has started washing her hands with soap and water instead of merely rinsing them.

The education programme where Prabesika learned about hand hygiene is part of a larger awareness-raising campaign, part of the pandemic response in Nepal.

To address the great need for handwashing facilities in public spaces, the sanitation and hygiene programme supported by WSSCC has provided seven contact-less handwashing stations in the two districts of Sarlahi and Rautahat, with plans to provide nine more to be placed in municipal offices, health care facilities and schools. Plans to build three disabled-friendly toilets in each district are also underway.

Janak Giri, 80, a priest at the local Ganesh temple in Ward no. 7 of Hariwon municipality, keeps a bucket with soap and water available, ensuring that everyone washes their hands before entering.

Through the efforts of BWSN and other partners, more than 1 million people in approximately 200,000 households in Nepal have been reached with campaigns to promote handwashing with soap. The campaign also reached 192 health care facilities across 64 rural municipalities.

The Ministry of Water Supply, through its water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) clusters (which are part of the District Disaster Preparedness and Response Plan for each district) has also been carrying out large-scale awareness campaigns to promote sanitation and hygiene.

Janaki Sharan Bhagat, Divisional Engineer at WSSDO and WASH Cluster Lead of Province 2, said, “We have seen huge improvement among the communities in maintaining hand hygiene.”

At the national level, the government also promoted hand hygiene through a month-long campaign in September 2020 linked to the celebration of Nepal’s achieving open defecation free (ODF) status in 2019.

Currently, 54 percent of the population of Nepal lacks handwashing facilities at home.

“Since hand washing is the first line of defence to control the spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19, we have incorporated handwashing into all sanitation and hygiene guidelines and policies,” he said.

“We need to enhance the capacity of local governments to strengthen WASH sector programs and their monitoring.”