Spreading safe hygiene and menstrual health messages across rural India

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As the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise in India, WSSCC is shoring up its resources to work to educate as many people as possible about COVID-19 and the need for sanitation and hygiene in order to stop the spread of the pandemic.
Raza Naqvi
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“We are organising awareness sessions online and through field programmes,” says Ms Trupti Ashtankar, WASH Support Officer at WSSCC. “Only approved information and messages on COVID-19 are disseminated across the country.”

Ms Ashtankar explains that one of the most important hygiene practices is handwashing. However, a recent report by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation reveals that nearly 75 percent of the rural population does not use soap at all.

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Mr Ziyaul Haque is a sanitation and hygiene trainer in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. He has been working to spread awareness in local communities, reaching out to the people living in rural areas as most of them didn’t know much about COVID-19 and best hygiene practices.

“Handwashing is essential to prevent catching the coronavirus. I have conducted training in two villages of Unnao district, where the importance of hand hygiene was explained to the villagers,” said Mr Haque.

Similar training sessions were conducted in the villages of Arihaura and Tularam Kheda, where at least 50 participants were informed about handwashing, physical distancing, and menstrual hygiene.

“We didn’t know that handwashing with soap is so important,” said Mr Ramesh Nishad, a resident of Arihaura village. “We were in the habit of just using water. Because of the information received during the session, my family members and neighbours are now using soap every time we wash our hands.”

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Menstrual health and hygiene is another subject being addressed. Ms Princi Verma, another trainer, working with WSSCC, has conducted webinars for inhabitants of Kargil, a remote town located between the mountains in northwestern India.

“Apart from informing [adolescent girls] about COVID-19 and best practices, we concentrated on creating awareness around menstruation. We involved 16 teachers from government schools and told them the importance of using menstrual health products, how to make pads, and menstrual waste disposal techniques,” said Ms Verma.

“Once everything returns to normal and schools are reopened, the teachers will educate schoolgirls about hand hygiene and menstrual health. An NGO called R-Zamba helped us in reaching out to the people in Kargil and they will closely work with them,” she added.

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Government support is key to ensuring that correct information is disseminated to the population. To that end, Ms Surekha Lambe, a sanitation and hygiene trainer, has conducted online awareness training programmes for government officials in the states of Maharashtra, Delhi, Rajasthan, and Sikkim. The training sessions have started to make an impact, particularly in the state of Maharashtra, where Ms Lambe has mobilised people in rural areas of small districts like Wardha, Washim, Nanded, and Chandrapur.

“During the training sessions, officials from Maharashtra State Rural Livelihood Missions (MSRLM) were involved in disseminating information to a larger audience. MSRLM’s network is strong, and they have mobilised over 50 lakh women in the state. With the help of its officials, we were able to train Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) and Anganwadi (rural child care centre) workers. They are now passing on the information to the villagers,” said Ms Lambe.

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This kind of collaboration and leadership will be essential to ensure that the information on sanitation and hygiene reaches as wide an audience as possible.

“We aim to create awareness among the masses in collaboration with our Menstrual Health Hygiene (MHH) trainers, Rapid Action Learning (RAL) facilitators and partners like Global Interfaith Wash Alliance (GIWA) and Youth Ki Awaaz,” said Ms Ashtankar.