Reimagining Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for every child

Hand hygiene for all

By Rudolf Schwenk
Robson washing hands with soap before entering into classroom
UNICEF Malawi/2020/Malumbo Simwaka
20 October 2020

Handwashing with soap can help reduce the transmission of a range of infectious diseases. When children wash their hands with soap after going to the toilet or before eating, they reduce their risk of getting diarrhea by more than 40 per cent. Handwashing can reduce acute respiratory infections and the transmission of diseases such as cholera and Ebola. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical role hand hygiene plays in reducing the transmission of the disease.

Handwashing with soap and clean water, and infection prevention and control in communities, schools, hospitals and households are some of the most effective ways to stop the spread of Coronavirus. The theme for this year’s Global Handwashing Day – Hand hygiene for all – is an appropriate reminder of the urgent need to build on the current momentum to make hand hygiene the backbone of public health interventions beyond the pandemic and create a culture of hand hygiene. Hand hygiene must become everybody’s business. 

Yet, for millions of Malawians, including school-aged children, these services are out of reach. These populations, especially the most vulnerable, are not only denied their basic human rights, but they are also at greater risk of exposure to COVID-19.

According to the 2020 Education Management Information System (EMIS), 578 primary schools and 35 secondary schools in Malawi do not have potable water.  As many as 4,378 primary schools and 587 secondary schools do not have supplies such as soap and other facilities, affecting more than 3.6 million children in the country.

UNICEF is committed to ensure that every child has a chance to attend school with adequate Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities to prevent the spread of COVID-19, other health risks, and to promote hygiene.

It costs about MK 45 million (US$ 60,000) to fully equip one school with resilient and durable WASH facilities. This includes handwashing stations with sustainable and green solar-powered water systems and latrines to keep children and teachers safe from not just COVID-19 but other preventable diseases. In 2020, UNICEF has installed such WASH facilities in eight schools, with support from private foundations and UNICEF partners in Switzerland, Spain and Germany.

Investing in sustainable and resilient WASH services for schools in Malawi requires joint and coordinated commitment from different sectors including the Government of Malawi, development partners, community leaders, parents, schools, NGOs, and donors in funding durable WASH schemes and promoting community ownership for sustainable WASH in school, for every child.

As a step in the right direction, the Government of Malawi, UNICEF and other development partners in the WASH sector have so far committed about MK 2.8 billion (US$ 3.8 million) to cover the water supply, handwashing services and sanitation needs of 157 schools.

But this is not enough. An additional investment of about MK 22.6 billion (US $30 million) is required to ensure resilient and permanent water supply and sanitation facilities in all public schools in Malawi. Investing in sustainable WASH systems will protect children and their families now and save lives in the future.

UNICEF calls on the government, communities, civil society, and all key sector partners to allocate adequate funding and in-kind support to ensure that as children return to school, they have the safest possible environment to learn and grow.