Around 640 under-five children in India die every day (or over 8 lakhs die every year) due to Pneumonia and Diarrhea, which are preventable diseases. Marginalised children are the most vulnerable. COVID-19 has further added to the agony.
Marginalised families and their children are the most vulnerable to infectious diseases including COVID-19. Maintaining hand hygiene is a simple, an effective and an affordable solution for preventing spread of these and several other infectious diseases. Yet, strikingly, only 25.3% rural and 56% urban households in India wash hands with soap or detergent before every meal; shockingly, 15% rural and 10% urban population do NOT wash their hands after defecation (National Sample Survey 2019 report).
Save the Children, India and People to People Health Foundation (PPHF), with support from Unilever, convened a Dissemination Workshop – ‘COVID-19 and Hand Hygiene Program’ on 26th October 2021.
The purpose of the workshop was to share learnings from the HUL-backed programme called Prevention of Novel Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19) outbreak In India – Essential Health and Hygiene Interventions. The programme focused on hand-hygiene behavior through the involvement of community health workers like Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) and Anganwadi Workers (AWW), school teachers, students and mothers. Other community members also came together to act as ‘Agents of Change’ for this programme.
The workshop was represented by a combination of high-level speakers and community level champions to help us understand the challenges and opportunities for Hand Hygiene programmes in the context of COVID-19 in India.
The Essential Health and Hygiene Interventions programme was designed and implemented in four states of India (West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar and Maharashtra) to support the prevention of COVID-19 and improve handwashing practices. The programme directly reached 11,68, 648 and trained 12,474 ASHA/ AWW/ school teachers.
The discussions focused on highlighting the need to resurface and prioritise HWWS (Handwashing with Soap) as a health priority. Overall, the programme contributed to improving the hand hygiene practices in the community, building personnel capacity, and creating community awareness on HWWS. They also supported families with more than 10 lakh soaps.
The use of Rapid Emergency Training Solution (RETS) and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) platforms to engage with communities in hotspot districts on how to respond to the COVID-19 crisis supported the programme. A combination of technology platforms and a set of tools with demonstration and interpersonal communications enabled enhancing the levels of practices related to HWWS.
The engagement of frontline health workers (ASHAs and AWWs), community volunteers, school teachers and other village/slum agents of change to deliver the messages at the household level and through group meetings while maintaining COVID-19 protocols were effective.
There is a need to collaboratively address community level challenges like maintaining the environment for HWWS within the family as well as within the community at large. The modification of programme implementation strategies as per the situation greatly supported in reaching people for improved HWWS practices. With the outbreak of COVID-19, and the restrictions in place to limit the spread, the programme adhered to prevention measures while conducting trainings across the four states. With over 100 gathering for the workshop, the event acknowledged participation from varied sectors.
Said Dr. Laxmikant Palo, CEO, People to People Health Foundation, “COVID has reinforced the importance of handwashing, creating and maintaining an enabling environment is critical for HWWS practices. It is especially important to appreciate and recognize community champions, mothers and children showing commitment towards HWWS.”
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