Safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) practices play a central role in preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus, as well as maintaining people’s health during this outbreak and beyond. Mitigating the damage caused by this virus requires that everyone have access to safely managed water, sanitation and hygiene products and services—and that they practice preventative behaviors, such as regularly washing or sanitizing hands and regularly disinfecting surfaces. It is also important that human excreta are properly contained, transported, treated and disposed of, and that water is safe, uncontaminated, and available in sufficient quantities for drinking, cooking and cleaning.
Barriers to Safe Behaviors
While fear of COVID-19 is a strong motivator for the adoption of preventive behaviors at home, in public places, schools and healthcare facilities, it is only possible when people have access to the right products and services to do so. However, many people are not able to adopt safe behaviors due to the lack of infrastructure, the absence of affordable, appropriate, and desirable products, supplies and materials, and/or the lack of services. For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, over 400 million people live in homes that have no hygiene facilities at all (JMP 2017) and globally more than 1.5 billion people have no sanitation services at their health care facility (JMP 2016).
Thanks to our donors, PSI is responding to meet some of these critical gaps for at-risk populations by adapting our existing programs and deploying interventions with new funding focused on behavior change, education, and market development to improve access to basic, yet desirable, products to increase uptake of healthy WASH behaviors.
This includes working with local business partners to ramp up innovative production and distribution of basic WASH/COVID-19 commodities, like hand sanitizer (Ghana) and handwashing facilities (Benin, Cote d’Ivoire and Ethiopia). We’re working to increase the sales of household water treatment and surface disinfection products (Angola), and assisting countries in supporting providers to incorporate improved Infection and Prevention Control measures (Vietnam). We’re supporting WASH social behavior change campaigns in multiple countries.
PSI’s COVID-19 response work is focused on three pillars:
Increasing Access to WASH Products through Market Development
PSI has learned that one of the main barriers to the uptake of WASH products is that they don’t meet the requirements of consumers from the perspective of affordability and desirability. PSI is working to increase the range, quality, desirability and affordability of WASH products, including handwashing stations, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and disinfectants, available for households and institutions (health centers and schools) in several countries. PSI is leveraging its existing in-country networks of regional distributors and retail business partners across regions, and building relationships with new ones, to strengthen the quality and expand the supply and distribution of WASH products. PSI continues to identify and activate local business networks and to train and support them in marketing and distribution, manufacturing, and product development.
Supporting Healthcare Workers and Pharmacy Staff
For nearly all of its 50-year history, PSI has been building the skills of clinical and pharmacy providers and developing tools to track quality and service volume. PSI will maximize existing digital tools such as e-Learning platforms and channels such as Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and WhatsApp as a route to provide timely and cost-effective capacity building. These tools will also lend support to providers on COVID-19 related matters such as infection prevention and control. PSI will also support administrative, clinical, and support staff to implement critical infection prevention and control (IPC) guidelines, tools, protocols. These tools enable programs to better analyze the quality of care while safeguarding the health of both providers and patients.
WASH Social Behavior Change Campaigns
To ensure consistent use of WASH products for the prevention of COVID-19, PSI is collaborating with government partners worldwide to deliver social behavior change (SBC) campaigns. These will be channeled through established media partnerships, digital platforms and safe interpersonal communications. In the digital space, PSI will apply social media monitoring and social listening tools to assist in the regular and systematic tracking of public opinions related to PSI’s and other implementing partners’ WASH SBC efforts. These tools will allow PSI’s SBC team to better analyze demographic data, trending topics, interactions, and reactions to drive content development and better engage mobilizers and target users.
Finally, thank you for being a part of this WASH network, whether you are a friend, partner, donor, peer organization or colleague. We look forward to exchanging stories, lessons, and ideas with you as we work together to slow the spread of COVID-19 and realize the promise of access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene for all.
Jennifer Marcy and John Sauer
Senior Technical Advisors