By Mary Hearty

Although COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased mass installation of public hand washing (HW) system in Africa, there is scarce evidence on uptake, usage and maintenance of public hand washing stations in the region.

Martin Muchangi, Program Director at water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) & Neglected Tropical Diseases in Kenya made these remarks during a virtual conference held by  Amref Health Africa, in collaboration with Amref International University on 19 July 2021, as he presented on a project themed: Performance & Utilization of Hand washing Stations Deployed in Response to COVID-19 in Kenya: A Rapid Assessment.

“The scarce evidence on uptake, usage and maintenance of public hand washing stations in the region is due to low investment, lack of information, low adoption of hygiene behavior, and poor HW social norms,” Muchangi explained.

It is with this reason that he advised that the government, its partners and other stakeholders should promote community engagement for behavior change and better social norms on hand washing.

Muchangi observed that proof on efficacy of hand washing in the reduction of infectious diarrhea increased from 35% to 50%, and respiratory infections from 16% to 30%.

The principal investigator in this project emphasized that sustainability offhand washing post-COVID-19 without a systems approach will remain a definitive challenge.

Their study which was conducted in five Counties in Kenya including Kwale and Nairobi using systematic sampling with mixed data collecting assessed the functionality, accessibility, and maintenance of hand washing stations.

They also analyzed barriers and enablers of effective use of hand washing stations in public spaces, and identified sustainability gaps for effective hand washing in public spaces.

According to their results on functionality of the hand washing system, 8 out of 10 of the located HW systems were fully functional six months post installation including water, soap and functional tap. In terms of accessibility, 7 in 10 were present at the intended location.

On the other hand, in terms of maintenance, 7 out of 10 of the caretakers actively visited HW systems multiple times a day and ensured that the stations were fully replenished.

Findings on their utilization showed that about 3 users washed their hands with soap at a time of observation per hour. Also, 1 out of 10 of the systems had inaccessible height for physically impaired.

Additionally, findings on best sustainability practices indicated an extended role of private business owners in maintaining public hand washing facilities.

Muchangi advised that local governments need to develop and adopt frameworks that promote private business investments in public hand washing stations.

Likewise, he called for the need to consider appropriate operation and maintenance of models for better sustainability of public hand washing facilities in future investigations.