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The Global Handwashing Partnership

Webinar Summary: The Ebola Crisis and Innovative WASH Solutions

October 5, 2016

Ebola was once a disease that primarily plagued the African subcontinent. This all changed in 2014 when Ebola spread rapidly through the region. It quickly became a global threat that triggered an unparalleled international response. Despite the fact that good hand hygiene practices, including handwashing with soap, can effectively remove the virus from skin and surfaces, stigma around the infection and poor understanding about its prevention were among the principle reasons for such an unprecedented transmission rate. As a result, there were nearly 29,000 reported cases and over 11,000 fatalities between December 2013 and April 2016. This crisis represents the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.

Sustaining long-term water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) practices are essential for strong public health systems which are influential in preventing the resurgence of diseases such as Ebola and preventing future outbreaks. For this reason, the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing hosted a webinar in collaboration with Global Communities, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) exploring how innovative WASH and social behavior change (SBC) solutions were critical in halting the West Africa Ebola crisis and how their programs are supporting the recovery process and promoting ongoing community health and wellbeing.

Global Communities Program Development Manager, Alice Urban, and WASH Specialist, Franky Li assessed the impact of community-led total sanitation (CLTS) interventions on helping contain and prevent the spread of Ebola in Liberia. They also described how CLTS engagement in other health-related activities has raised government awareness about the need for more targeted support to the community-level health system and demonstrates a low-cost, sustainable option. CLTS can be more than just a tool for sanitation promotion. Community momentum should be leveraged to promote other community health and development objectives.

Learn more about the CLTS methodology used in Liberia here and a report on the community-led response here.

Gaelle Fohr, a sanitation and hygiene consultant who worked as a specialist between 2014 and 2016 for UNICEF’s West and Central Africa program (WCARO), delivered a presentation on the impact of hygiene kits that were distributed in schools when they reopened in early 2015. Together with handwashing promotion, these kits helped form new norms and improved knowledge of handwashing with soap. Ultimately, hygiene kits became part of the safe school protocol. UNICEF continues to incorporate lessons learned from the Ebola response into their approach towards other infectious disease outbreaks. Programs, such as this, can lead to a stronger evidence base when projects have efficient knowledge management guidelines that work in conjunction with the monitoring and reporting processes.

Read how UNICEF launched global response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa here and WCARO’s efforts here.

CDC’s Infection Prevention & Control program (IPC) was described by Dr. Nora Chea, Medical Epidemiologist. Dr. Chea demonstrated how improved WASH interventions in healthcare settings drove the success of IPC in Sierra Leone and how key results might be replicated in response to future outbreaks. IPC interventions—which include providing clean water, improving environmental cleaning and environmental waste management practices, and proper disinfection of medical equipment—can have a greater impact when technical guidance and evidence-based knowledge are provided at the regional and global levels and information management systems are supported. Integration is a current hot topic in development, and it is applicable in this context, too. Clearly defining cross-sectoral monitoring between sectors and response clusters can reduce gaps or duplicity between IPC and WASH programs. Dr. Chea concluded his presentation by emphasizing that IPC programs within healthcare structures must integrate improved WASH practices at all levels. WASH is critical in healthcare settings—both for IPC and for promoting public health writ large.

Information about CDC’s ongoing IPC work may be found here. CDC has also produced Ebola outbreak communication resources, available here.

Learn more about key takeaways from these programs by watching the webinar recording here. All presentation slides can be downloaded here. If you’d like to learn more about how handwashing with soap can help prevent Ebola virus transmission, read our one-page summary here.

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