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Water, sanitation and hygiene strategies important for tackling COVID-19

June 2020
A man being counselled by a health worker.

Strategies around water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) have a key role to play in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new report from Professor David Molyneux, emeritus professor and former director of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), says the pandemic has contributed to the sense of urgency to implement well-argued and defined strategies particularly around WASH.

He points out that experience from the recent Ebola outbreak showed that villages that had effective sanitation and environmental hygiene strategies had no cases of the disease during the outbreak.

An emphasis on WASH in NTD programmes, which are presently ‘flexing’ to help tackle COVID-19, would not only help with the present pandemic, but bring obvious add-on benefits to the NTD programmes, for example those tackling intestinal worms, schistosomiasis and trachoma, and also those tackling diarrhoeal diseases. ‘Flexing’ involves taking advantage of programme expertise and capability to help meet the needs of a developing crisis.

Professor Molyneux, who is chair of the technical consultative committee of UK aid’s flagship NTD programme, Ascend West and Central Africa, also detailed other key areas where the programme had pertinent expertise to offer. These included behaviour change messaging and innovative mapping. They also have strong links with communities at the periphery of the health system to ministries of health themselves.

The programmes also had a well-proven ability to reach vulnerable groups such as people with disabilities, nomadic pastoral populations and those in distant rural communities, as well as populations in conflict areas and refugee camps.

“NTD programmes are flexible due to long experience in diverse communities, being proven innovators as well as an exemplar of programmes that reach those most in need… They provide the best buys in public health defining universal health coverage and ‘leaving no one behind’,” said Professor Molyneux.

However, he also said it was important for NTD programmes to begin preparing for the restart of mass drug administration (MDA) programmes. This included creating inventories of drug expiry timelines to ensure stocks can be used speedily if the WHO guidelines change, and engaging communities in defining effective and safe distribution plans.

The report can be read in full here. Professor Molyneux’s first report, which set out his initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is also available on our website.

A school student washes her hands using water from a large barrel.

Find out more

Read the report to find out how WASH techniques will help to fight COVID-19 and neglected tropical diseases across thirteen countries in Africa.

Read the report (pdf)

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