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The 2021 UNC Water and Health Conference from the Perspective of a First-Time Attendee

October 22, 2021

By: Jennifer Ayres, FHI 360

On October 4-8, I attended the 2021 UNC Water and Health Conference: Science, Policy and Practice. This is an annual conference where leading experts in the WASH sector explore issues related to safe drinking water, sanitation, hygiene, and water resources around the globe. Although the conference usually takes place at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Water Institute, this year’s conference was held virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As a student studying global health, I was excited to participate and better understand WASH issues in various contexts.

This semester I am an intern on FHI 360’s WASH team meaning I had the opportunity to attend numerous sessions, two of which the Global Handwashing Partnership co-hosted. The first of these sessions was called “Achieving Hand Hygiene for All: Evidence and Capacity Priorities for Global Progress”. During this session, the current state of hand hygiene was revealed as well as insights around capacity building needs related to hand hygiene. Participants then had the opportunity to share the challenges that they identified and experienced related to hand hygiene.

The Global Handwashing Partnership’s second session, “Learning from Hygiene Response to COVID-19: Approaches to Strengthen All Aspects of the Programme Design Cycle”, was about approaches for using remote data collection to inform the COVID-19 response in various contexts including but not limited to Kenya, Burkina Faso, and Mexico. This session also discussed strengthening monitoring, evaluation, and adaptation as well as building upon partnerships and sector coordination at a district-level in order to improve hand hygiene and subsequently the COVID-19 response.

Besides these two sessions, I also attended other sessions hosted by different organizations in the WASH sector. This included a session on the cost of hand hygiene in all household settings; a discussion detailing progress made in measuring menstrual health and hygiene; a networking session where participants could explore careers in WASH; and an interactive session where participants discussed approaches to decolonizing WASH research.

Since this was my first time attending the UNC Water and Health Conference, I was exposed to many new ideas and ongoing research pertaining to WASH. I really enjoyed the conference because it gave me the opportunity to take a deep dive into different topics in global health and specifically those related to WASH. It also gave me the chance to meet and interact with global health actors from across the globe where WASH-related work is happening. In general, it made me aware of important issues in WASH, successes that have been made in the field but also opportunities for improvement that can be made in the future, particularly in regards to hand hygiene.

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