Handwashing: a critical starting point for healthy communities and a first response to a crisis

Young school girl washes her hands carefully at a handwashing station at school

The sudden and rapid onset of COVID-19 globally was met with great anxiety in Solomon Islands where a weak and under-resourced health system, coupled with shortages of locally available personal protective equipment (PPE), created huge vulnerabilities.


At the same time, the impacts of Tropical Cyclone Harold were also being felt across the South Pacific, including in West Guadalcanal where Plan and Live & Learn’s New Times, New Targets (NTNT) project is focused.


Houses, crops, roads and water systems were destroyed by TC Harold exacerbating the affected communities’ vulnerability to COVID-19, should it arrive.


Plan and Live & Learn staff responded quickly to support the Solomon Islands Government in responding to the multiple challenges brought about by these dual crises.


A COVID-19 response is a WASH response


Supported by the Australian Government, through Water for Women, Plan and Live & Learn played a key role in the establishment and coordination of Provincial and National response mechanisms such as the “Risk Communications Task Force” and the National WASH Cluster.


Working collaboratively with the Solomon Islands Government Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS), MHMS approved risk communication materials were used in awareness and prevention outreach. Plan and Live & Learn promptly developed supplementary COVID-19 related materials, specifically responding to the heightened risks of child protection and family violence.


These materials included pathways to family support services and were provided to, and approved by, the National Risk Communication Task Force and the National Protection Cluster for wider use across the country.


The NTNT team quickly deployed to the Project’s target communities in West Guadalcanal, where people’s frequent travels to and from Honiara to sell cash crops and purchase goods put them at a heightened risk of COVID-19 contraction.


The NTNT team distributed almost 300 water containers to households affected by TC Harold and provided over 4,250 COVID-19 information and guidance materials to over 4,360 people in 65 communities, 15 schools and 3 rural health centres!

a group of students in blue uniforms stand in a line washing their hands with their back to the camera

Tanakuku Group practicing handwashing in West Guadalcanal (Plan International Australia in Solomon Islands)


Handwashing demonstrations were conducted along with example construction of basic and affordable handwashing facilities, including a rudimentary but effective unit constructed from bamboo and a converted bleach container fitted with a tap.


Recipients of the information were grateful for the clear information that dispelled rumors and false information that was beginning to spread throughout communities. Community leaders were "really satisfied with the training, which was clear and understandable." The simple messages from the training were easy to understand, even for children, and community leaders committed to continuing to pass the COVID-19 message on to other communities to ensure they too could benefit.


It is due to quick response from the Government and the hard work of partners like Plan and Live & Learn, that Solomon Islands remains COVID-19 free.


Authorities remain vigilant and the risk of infections as Solomon Islanders are repatriated from other countries remains real, with neighbouring Pacific Island countries experiencing recent increases in COVID-19 cases. The NTNT Project continues to promote good hygiene and handwashing with soap - expertly demonstrated by these school children - and support improvements in WASH access and knowledge in its target areas.

Through Partnerships for Recovery, Australia is supporting COVID-19 work across the Pacific to secure our region’s health, wellbeing and stability in these challenging times. Through Water for Women, not only are we delivering safe, equitable and sustainable Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), we are also building, healthy, inclusive and resilient societies. 

Feature Photo: A school student practices handwashing during COVID-19 awareness raising sessions (Plan International Australia in Solomon Islands)


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