Handwashing is a key component of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs. Handwashing also reduces the spread of illness; however, many barriers exist for providing handwashing supplies at Kenyan schools.
School handwashing photo_essay_swash+
Some schools have limited access to water. Students must walk to a local watersource during the school day or bring water with them from home to contribute to school water.
Water access at schools makes a difference for providing water forhandwashing.One SWASH+ study showed a 66% reduction in diarrheal prevalence and asimilar reduction in days of illness among pupils in “water scarce” schools(schools with no improved water source within two kilometers) thatreceived a water supply, hygiene promotion, water treatment andsanitation intervention, compared to pupils in water scarce control schools(Freeman, 2012).
Another barrier for properhandwashing is lack ofsupplies such as watercontainers and soap. Tondeprimary school, which didnot participate in theSWASH+ program,demonstrates the challengesthat many schools face inproviding sufficient waterstorage containers andaccess to soap.
A sustainability assessment of theSWASH+ project revealed that only 2% ofthe pilot schools provided soap forhandwashing on the day of the assessment(Saboori et al., 2010). The two mainbarriers to soap provision were insufficientschool funds and soap theft.If soap is not supplied at schools, studentswill not be able to practice properhandwashing. Studies show thathandwashing with soap can reduce the riskof diarrheal disease by more than 42%(Curtis and Cairncross, 2003).
In an effort to improve the availability of soap inschools, SWASH+ piloted an innovative soapywater (literally, soap dissolved in water for handwashing) project in 11 schools in Nyando,Rachuonyo and Suba districts in Western Kenya.A majority of school interviewees found powderedsoap cheaper and easier to use; soap theft wasalso reduced. Additionally, 10 of the 11 schoolsreported repurchasing powdered soap over bar orliquid soap during the 2009 school year. The higherrate of repurchase and preference for soapy watersuggests that it may be a more sustainable methodof handwashing than the current alternatives.
During 2008 and 2009 SWASH+ staff made regularunannounced monitoring visits and measured positivehandwashing behavior (using soapy water). However,after an entire year with no visits, there was a 60%decrease in the presence of soapy water bottles and a20% decrease in children using soapy water.Potential reasons for this decrease could be a lack offunds and lack of monitoring. Monitoring school WASH isparticularly important for sustaining positive handwashingbehavior. Monitoring visits may help motivate schools tocontinue supplying soapy water in schools. Insufficientfunds for soap provision was cited as another reason forthe decrease in soapy water at schools.
Improved access to water andhandwashing supplies can beachieved through additionalfunding allocated specifically toschool WASH for bothinfrastructure investments likehandwashing containers andconsumables like soap.
ReferencesFreeman, MC., Clasen, T., Dreibelbis, R., Saboori, S., Greene, L., & Rheingans, R. (2012).‘The impact of a school-based water supply and treatment, hygiene, and sanitation program on pupil diarrhea: A cluster-randomized trial’Saboori, S., Mwaki, A., and Rheingans, R. (2010). ‘Is Soapy Water a Viable Solution for Hand Washing in Schools?’ Waterlines 29:4.Curtis, V. and Cairncross, S. (2003). ‘Effect of washing hands with soap on diarrhoea risk in the community: a systematic review’ Lancet Infectious Diseases 3: 275–81.Photography by CARE/Brendan Bannon. Photo essay by Julie Straw; edited by Malaika Cheney-Coker.SWASH+ is a five-year applied research project to identify, develop, and test innovative approaches to school-based water, sanitation and hygiene in Nyanza Province, Kenya. The partners that form the SWASH+ consortium are CARE, Emory University, the Great Lakes University of Kisumu, the government of Kenya, and the former Kenya Water for Health Organisation (KWAHO), and Water.org. SWASH+ is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Global Water Challenge. For more information, visit www.swashplus.org.