The critical importance of inclusive WASH in achieving handwashing and hand hygiene for all

Lady in a wheelchair is washing her hands with accessible, portable handwashing device

Today, on Global Handwashing Day, we are acknowledging and celebrating the hard work of our partners in reaching 3.5 million people with their COVID-19 responses!

This Global Handwashing Day is all about hand hygiene for all, and with COVID-19 impacting every community and country across the globe in different, challenging and ongoing ways, it is more important than ever to mark this day and prioritise proper handwashing in all that we do.


So why is handwashing so important? It may seem par for the course for those lucky enough to be able to wash their hands properly and regularly, but that is certainly not the reality for all.


Proper hand hygiene is often neglected, in part due to the lack of access to proper hand hygiene facilities in key places. Globally, 3 billion of the world’s population lack access to a basic handwashing facility. Approximately 75% of those who lack access to soap and water live in the world’s poorest countries and are among the most vulnerable groups.[1] 



Handwashing is a critical first step in preventing disease and in response to natural disasters


Just how critical? The proof is in these figures provided in this Global Handwashing Day (GHD) fact sheet. Handwashing with soap can help reduce the transmission of a range of diseases that can be deadly, such as diarrhoea, acute respiratory infections and cholera. It is also key in the fight against COVID-19. Handwashing with soap destroys the outer membrane of the virus and thereby inactivates it. One study found that regular handwashing with soap can reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 infection by 36%.


However, proper and effective handwashing also relies on accessible and safe water supply, access to soap and an understanding of how to wash one’s hands properly. COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of handwashing, something the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector has long known, which is why it is central to our work, the ‘H’ (for hygiene) in WASH.

A water and WASH response is a COVID-19 response


Making hand hygiene available and accessible to all is an important part of the COVID-19 response. That is why a water and WASH response is a COVID-19 response.


WASH addresses key behaviours and actions - such as hand washing at critical times - that people need to undertake to prevent person-to-person transmission of COVID-19, and is central to reducing transmission risks in key locations such as health care facilities (HCF)s, schools, markets, transit hubs, households and communities.


Water for Women partners moved quickly to respond to the pandemic in the 15 countries where they are operating. Through their Water for Women projects, they already had the right people in the right places – established and well-trained teams, strong networks and relationships with local governments and civil society across Asia and the Pacific.


These established footprints allowed our partners to pivot their projects rapidly to support governments and communities prepare for and respond to COVID-19 with a strong focus on hand hygiene and behaviour change messaging. There was also a strategic focus on public hand washing facilities and improving hand washing facilities in schools.  Partners worked collaboratively and efficiently to implement a range of creative and innovative responses that drew on their vast experience and knowledge in inclusive WASH.


This included initiatives such as targeted community outreach, training of trainers, embedding COVID-19 prevention into existing programming as well as mass media campaigns, reaching up to 3.5 million people across the region with these early initiatives. Partners also built in initiatives to respond to the collateral impacts of COVID-19 and related restrictions, such as complimentary social protection messaging alongside hand hygiene messaging.


With additional support from Australia, through Partnerships for Recovery, our partners are now playing an important role in this ongoing fight. With its strong knowledge and learning culture, Water for Women will seek to learn and adapt quickly as our COVID-19 work progresses.



group of men and women wash their hands at large metal sink in a health care facility

View more of our partner responses

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The critical importance of WASH


Our WASH projects support communities to respond and recover from the pandemic by promoting behaviour change for better health and hygiene outcomes, in sustaining the containment of the pandemic,  supporting communities, including women and vulnerable groups, with livelihoods opportunities during and post pandemic, and adapting to a ‘new normal’ during the recovery phase.



Improved and inclusive WASH is critical to building resilient communities that are capable of responding to shocks and disasters such as pandemics or climate change. 


An effective COVID19 response needs to work cross-sectorally - across health and food security, education, planning/urban units as inclusive WASH has an integral role to play in all these sectors. And as Fund partners have shown, partnerships with organisations representing marginalised and vulnerable groups (women’s, disability, sexual and gender minorities) have been critical to ensuring that inclusive hygiene information reaches the hardest to reach, and no one is being left behind.


As Australia’s flagship inclusive WASH program, we are working together to meet this global challenge now, and to build healthy, inclusive and resilient societies across the region into the future.




Header photo: Sufia and her family can now wash their hands regularly thanks to a new handwashing device provided by World Vision Bangladesh (Tanoy Kumar Sarker, Disability Inclusion Facilitator, SHOMOTA)

Through Partnerships for Recovery, Australia is supporting COVID-19 preparedness, response and recovery activities across the Indo-Pacific to secure our region's health, wellbeing and stability in these challenging times.

An unprecedented crisis requires a coordinated response. Through our water resources management and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) projects, we are not only delivering safe, equitable and sustainable water and WASH, we are also building healthy, inclusive and resilient societies. We're supporting individuals, communities and countries to endure, and recover from, the COVID-19 crisis as well as future extreme events and natural disasters. 

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