Ensuring access to handwashing stations within the COVID-19 response

Man washing hands at a station.

The COVID-19 pandemic has validated what the WASH sector has long been saying; that WASH is the first line of defence against the spread of communicable diseases. In Nepal, the impact of lack of access to WASH services and facilities is even more acute in public areas and institutions.

In the Dailekh district for example, several public schools – closed since the start of the pandemic – had been converted into quarantine centres to accommodate returnees (mostly Nepali migrant workers). In an effort to manage the spread of the virus, the government has decreed for all returnees to spend 14 days in quarantine centres before they can be considered safe to reunite with their families and communities.

Building on SNV’s expertise in area-wide sanitation programming and hygiene behaviour change communications, SNV introduced a foot-operated handwashing with soap (HWSS) design. With SNV’s local partner Everest Club, local manufacturers were contracted to build and install foot-operated HWSS facilities across 26 priority public locations in Dailekh: schools converted into quarantine centres and health care facilities. To facilitate the proper use and operation of the handwashing stations, members of Quarantine Management Committees were trained to monitor facility use and functionality and maintain them.

Parallel to these efforts, hygiene messaging of SNV has remained strong. Through micro-level community messaging coupled with broadcasting messages via local radio stations, loudspeaker or hoarding boards, personal and institutional hygiene measures were reaching quarantine centre staff, schoolteachers, rural municipality officials, elected representatives and communities.

The handwashing stations are very helpful in managing quarantined places, especially during such hard situations. We appreciate SNV’s partnership with us. We envisage the installation of six more HWSS. If the (SNV) project support is not possible, we should be able to manage from our own budget.

– Elected RM Chairperson in Thantikandh

The 26 handwashing stations are expected to benefit over 9,800 people. In makeshift quarantine centres and health care facilities in Thantikandh alone, the six foot-operated HWSS facility is now being used by 1,300 people. Soon as Thantikadh schools open to its students – almost 1,500 students are expected to benefit from sanitation and hygiene improvements. The successful roll-out and functionality of the HWSS stations – with support from local manufacturers – had also convinced the Thantikadh government to scale up the designs. Six more strategic locations within the area are being considered for the installation of the handwashing stations.

Photo: Person in quarantine using handwashing station installed at the Bhagabati Secondary School, Suiya, Thatikandh-3, Dailekh, Nepal (Everest Club, Dailekh/Dan Bahadur Kadayat)

Notes: This blog is part of the bi-annual success stories of the Beyond the Finish Line  - Inclusive and sustainable rural water supply services in Nepal project supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Water for Women Fund. It was written by Ratan Budhathoki.