Good hygiene practices, such as hand-washing and the safe disposal of feces, are essential for maximizing the health benefits of safe water sources and sanitation facilities.
Evidence shows that when hygiene education accompanies the provision of water and sanitation the number of deaths caused by diarrheal diseases is reduced by an average of 65%.
Children studying a hygiene promotion card in Bangladesh.
Credit: WaterAid / Juthika Howlader
Hygiene education, or promotion, encourages peopleto replace their unsafe hygiene practices with simple, safe alternatives. Most people are only too happy to use cleanwater and safe sanitation facilities once they are readily available, but without knowledge of good hygiene practices the health benefits will be greatly reduced.
Simple things like hand-washing
with soap after going to the toilet and before eating are crucial in preventing water- and sanitation-related diseases, like cholera, dysentery and typhoid, which result in the deaths of around 700,000 children a year.
A starting point for hygiene education projects is initiating a discussion with communities about what they know, do and
want in relation to hygiene. Actively involving communitiesin decision-making ensures projects are sustainable andappropriate to their beliefs.
WaterAid and its partners recognize that people are notjust motivated to adopt good hygiene because they understand the health benefits. Improvements in privacy, convenience, environmental cleanliness, self-esteem and social status also help motivate behavioral change.
The following are examples of activities used to establish a community’s needs before hygiene promotion begins:
- A community sorts pictures of different hygiene practices into categories ranging from very common to uncommon, and bad to good. They then discuss the practices and how community members can change their own behavior.
- Pictures showing a range of methods of feces disposal are arranged into a ladder. The community then discuss where on the ladder they are now, where they would like to be and how they can get there.
- Two posters are used, one showing a ‘before’ scene (a problem within the community) and the other an ‘after’ scene (an improved situation). The discussion focuses on what the community thinks are feasible steps it can take to change conditions from ‘before’ to ‘after’.
- A community maps their area and marks on important places, water points and latrines to highlight any problems with their water and sanitation facilities.
These are examples of the inclusive, practical and appropriate strategies used to promote good hygiene practices:
Local heath motivators
Community members are recruited to promote key hygiene practices to their friends and neighbors. Women are often recruited in these roles as they are most affected by water and
sanitation issues. By receiving training and taking on an important role they also strengthen their status withintheir community.
Children and schools
Children are taught good hygiene messages in schools through
songs, games and drama.
A hygiene education mural on a school latrine block in India.
Credit: WaterAid / Somesh
This is done because children are more open to discussing and changing hygiene habits than adults. When children learn the importance of good hygiene practices they are encouraged to pass these on to their families and friends, extending the benefits long into the future.
These can include practical demonstrations of hygiene practices, drama performances, radio and puppet shows, videos, picture books and cards, and health rallies. Once hygiene education has begun it is crucial that it continues. All the methods
described here are community-led and designed to bring about
sustainable behavior change.
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Examples of good hygiene
Photo: WaterAid / Marco Betti
- Taking drinking water from protected sources like handpumps or protected wells, rather than rivers or ponds
- Keeping water pots covered when they are not in use
- Going to the toilet at a safe distance from water sources that are used for drinking, cooking or other household purposes
- Ensuring animals are kept away from houses, water sources and latrines
- Using a sanitary latrine instead of going to the toilet in the bush
- Hand-washing with soap and water after going to the toilet and before eating
- Making drainage channels or soakpits to take wastewater away from wells and homes
- Washing fruit and vegetables before cutting, keeping cooked food covered and utensils off the ground