On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced COVID-19, an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), as a pandemic.
The virus has spread out quickly around the globe and affected each and every country around the globe.
People who are most at risk of dying are known to be the elderly, the chronically ill and people with heart diseases, diabetes and respiratory diseases. That said, those suffering most from the containment and other mitigation measures – the at-risk-population, and most likely to be left behind – are usually women, girls and other marginalised groups, such as the elderly, persons living with a disability (PLWD), those living in informal settlements, refugee camps, detention centres, and those in extreme poverty.
Until there is a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, there is no better cure than prevention. Most governments have taken containment measures, such as lockdowns, quarantines, social distancing, use of face masks in public spaces and campaigns about hygiene. Water, sanitation and hand hygiene, together with physical distancing, are central to preventing the spread of COVID-19, and a first line of defence against this serious threat to lives and health systems. Proper handwashing with water and soap kills the virus, but it does require access to running water in sufficient quantities. The crisis is further revealing inequities in WASH, between those with and without access to services, and between those with better and worse levels of service. Those without or with low quality services (or those using communal or shared WASH services) are less able to implement basic mitigation measures such as frequent handwashing with soap, social distancing and cleanliness. Response plans must therefore prioritise access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) as a key determinant of health and key to reduce transmission.
On 10 July 2020, Ms. Sigrid Kaag, Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, informed the Dutch parliament that €150 million would be assigned to support the response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the socio economic consequences in the most vulnerable countries. Six million was allocated to the Netherlands WASH SDG Consortium, with the aim to prevent further spread of COVID-19 in marginalised countries through awareness raising and improved access to WASH services.
The WASH SDG Consortium’s proposal on “Scaling up WASH SDG efforts: the first line of defence against COVID-19” programme (hereafter called WASH First) elaborating on how the Consortium aims to contribute towards achievement of the ministry’s commitments in responding to coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was approved by Inclusive Green Growth Department (IGG) department of DGIS on 1 September 2020.
The overall goal of WASH First programme is the “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.”
This programme will focus on specific objectives focusing on high at-risk and most marginalised populations:
- Result 1: Enhanced understanding of individuals, communities, health workers, schools and WASH service providers about mitigation measures against COVID-19 transmission
- Result 2: Population at risk of COVID-19 have sufficient and constant access to commodities and consumables (handwashing facilities, disinfection equipment, soap, hygiene kits including menstrual health products and personal protective equipment (PPE))
- Result 3: Population at risk of COVID-19 have safe (considering safeguarding and security) access to water and sanitation services through the construction of new and repair of non-functional water and sanitation facilities or through temporary/mobile supplies/services
The following intervention strategies are used in WASH First programme to reach its intended objectives:
- Awareness raising: awareness campaigns and mass media campaigns that make use of inclusive and targeted messaging and communication channels in order to reach those most at risk
- Direct information sharing and messaging: through home visits, courtyard meetings, community meetings where possible and in line with do-no-harm principles
- Improving access to safe drinking water and water supply for handwashing, as well as menstrual health and sanitation (including safe disposal of waste), following inclusive designs of facilities and services
- Improving access to safe handwashing facilities, especially for the most at-risk populations
- Improving access to hygiene products including soap, disinfectant, PPE and menstrual hygiene products for the most at-risk target groups
- COVID-related coordination meetings with local government and other stakeholders to highlight and strengthen the focus on the most marginalised and how to reach them
WASH First programme intends to contribute to the Dutch ministry of Foreign Affairs’s policy as well as its COVID-19 prevention efforts by reaching almost 5.5 million people through its interventions.