Our Future is at hand: let’s move forward together

Article: 14.10.21, Amsterdam

The 15th of October Global Handwashing Day is celebrated around the world. The unprecedented nature of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic continues to highlight the critical role hand hygiene plays in disease transmission. 

This year’s theme is a call to action to work as a collective and leverage lessons learned from Covid-19 response to address the historic neglect of hand hygiene in investments, policies, and programmes once and for all. As we enter a new normal, the future state of hand hygiene is in our hands.

Share the experiences

While throughout my more than 15 years in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH sector), I have been a strong advocate of importance of the hand hygiene, my personal and professional experiences during last year have strongly reinforced this conviction. And what better time than “Global Handwashing Day” to share these experiences! And to introduce you to our Movers and Shakers.

How my experience of the pandemic took a turn

On a personal level, my experience of the pandemic took another turn on 19 July 2021, when my eleven years old daughter tested positive for Covid-19. It came to us as a surprised, since she had very mild symptoms and if it was not for the “home kit tests” we probably would have not found out about it.

After the home test was confirmed by the official test, we received information from Dutch infection prevention and control authorities about the measures to take to contain the virus from being spread further. Observing strict hygiene and quarantine were of course at the heart of those measures.

As both me and my partner were fully vaccinated at the time, and we don’t have any high-risk population (*) in our household, following the measures meant that we were washing our hands far too often than we are used to, disinfecting dishes, door handles and other surfaces every day, having our groceries delivered at our home and of course staying at home. Oh, and we did have to adjust our holiday plans! It was all together not convenient.

*the elderly, the chronically ill and people with heart diseases, diabetes and respiratory diseases

'Privileges that unfortunately are not shared by many as 2.3 billion people globally who don’t have access to basic handwashing facilities and 670 million people who do not have handwashing facilities at all.'

Access to handwashing facilities

It was, however, very humbling experience, realising that my inconvenient personal experience with Covid-19 was thanked to my very privileged position. My family and I, did not have to think twice about accessing the running water from taps in comfort of our house, nor worrying whether water would come out of the taps, and taking for granted that soap and sanitisers were available. 

We also did not have to make the impossible choice between providing food for our family or buying water and soap; nor were we at risk of losing our (daily) source of income by staying at home to even have that choice. We could also easily access to information to make the informed decisions about the situation. Privileges that unfortunately are not shared by many as 2.3 billion people globally who don’t have access to basic handwashing facilities and 670 million people who do not have handwashing facilities at all .

WASH First

On a professional level, I have been managing a programme called “WASH First” funded by Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, since September 2020, which is implemented by WASH SDG consortium, in 6 countries: Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda and Uganda. The programme aims at “promotion of health-related hygiene practices to prevent further spread of COVID-19 in at-risk countries through awareness raising and improved access to WASH services.”

Meet the Movers and Shakers

While implementing this programme, we have encountered many “Movers and Shakers”, who have assumed responsibility and acted despite their underprivileged and restricting circumstances at home, institutions and communities. Those who have made a difference. Because ‘doing nothing was not an option’. 

Veiled behind their facemasks, they demonstrated that despite the strong forces widening the inequality gap, the trend can be reversed and a new narrative of hope can be written. We have been able to capture stories of some of these “Movers and Shakers” and it is an honour to celebrate this “Global Handwashing Day” with the first of their stories.

Blog by Sara Ahrari, WASH First Programme Manager

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