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Celebrating Global Handwashing Day: Transforming Trachoma Prevention in Ethiopia

October 17, 2023

By: Sarit Baum, Head of Partnerships and Communications, NALA

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) impact over 1 billion people globally, and can lead to blindness, malnutrition, and disability amongst the world’s poorest people. Encompassing a group of 20 diseases and conditions, several NTDs are associated with a lack of adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) access, including trachoma, a debilitating disease and the leading infectious cause of blindness. Preventable and treatable, trachoma elimination efforts require a multi-pronged approach including improved facial and hand hygiene to prevent dirty hands and eyes, the primary transmission route of trachoma.

Accounting for 52% of the global trachoma burden is Ethiopia, placing 65 million lives at risk of the disease. In response, Sightsavers International launched the Accelerate program, spanning ten Sub-Saharan African countries with the primary goal of expediting trachoma elimination. Consisting of four innovative action areas, the program primarily focused on improved hygiene habits for trachoma prevention, specifically emphasizing the importance of clean hands and faces. Despite not directly delivering WASH infrastructure to communities, an unexpected positive outcome emerged – a significant improvement in handwashing practices within Ethiopian schools.

Tasked with implementation in Southern Ethiopia, NALA worked to adapt and execute the Accelerate program across 30 districts. NALA’s approach revolved around incorporating the program’s four key action areas into a comprehensive framework, with an emphasis on local ownership and behavioral change as the linchpins for sustained trachoma control outcomes. This collaboration yielded remarkable successes, notably the transformation of handwashing practices in schools.

One of the cornerstones of the project, Gamification, made up of 3-age differentiated gamified activities; a storybook for younger children, a board game for older primary, and a competition for Health Club Members, targeted school-aged children, conveying critical trachoma prevention messages. NALA not only equipped teachers with pedagogical skills to motivate students effectively but also ensured the widespread distribution of gamification materials, promoting active student participation.

“When playing the board game, they were able to internalize important trachoma messages while having fun.” Aschalew Befekade, Guraferda District, SNNPR

The impact of the project, which included engagement with the wider school community, was both unexpected and profound. Through the creation of a motivating environment, and clear messaging, a remarkable shift in the WASH practices within schools was observed. A significant 72% increase in the establishment of health clubs and an extraordinary 178% surge in WASH club formation were some of the tangible results. Schools reported an increase in the availability of essential infrastructure such as latrines and handwashing stations, along with a more abundant supply of soap and water. Most remarkably, there was an astounding 500% increase in the number of children actively practicing handwashing in schools participating in the Accelerate project.

With the conclusion of the Accelerate project in May 2023, we celebrate these unexpected successes on Global Handwashing Day. While the project’s primary makeup did not include direct WASH infrastructure, it inadvertently fostered significant improvements in handwashing practices among Ethiopian school children. This achievement underscores the profound interplay of health promotion efforts and the pivotal role of hygiene education in diverse health initiatives. In the ongoing battle with trachoma and other hygiene-related health challenges, the messaging of clean hands remains ever important, paving the way for a disease-free future.

Category: Community Forum

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