New Delhi: 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 October 26, 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 behaviour 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 hand hygiene practices in the community, building personnel capacity, and creating community awareness on HWWS. We also supported families with more than 10 lakh soaps.
Around 640 under-five children in India die every day (or over eight lakhs die every year) due to pneumonia and diarrhoea, 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 per cent rural and 56 per cent urban households in India wash hands with soap or detergent before every meal; shockingly, 15 per cent rural and 10 per cent urban population do NOT wash their hands after defecation (National Sample Survey 2019 report).
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 training across the four States.
With over 100 gatherings for the workshop, the event acknowledged participation from varied sectors.
Key takeaways by each of the eloquent speakers were:
Sudarshan, CEO, Save the Children India, shares: “This partnership is yet another testimonial to what wonders collective action can do. It is also evidence of how to unlock the inherent and latent capacities of communities we are engaged with. Save the Children, India in general, and I, in particular, consider it our privilege and honour to be part of this partnership, which has catalyzed a movement at the grassroots, raising over a million agents of change, and through them ensuring a healthy living and a bright future for every last-child, thereby. Initiatives such as these reaffirm the commitment of Save the Children, India by being a part of the solution through its affirmative action and active participation. Our deepest gratitude to all the stakeholders, including our partners, child champions, ASHA, ICDS workers, and community members for making this transformation possible.”
The biggest take home for us has been “Yes We Can”!
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 recognise community champions, mothers and children showing commitment towards HWWS.”
Building greater collaboration with the stakeholders working on HW is essential to achieve the goal.