Our future is at hand this Global Handwashing Day

15 October 2021

You have probably washed your hands more times than ever during the last 18 months. The fact is COVID-19 has made us a lot more conscious of hygiene, and handwashing behaviour has increased globally. This is something that Professor Darren Gray, an infectious disease epidemiologist and Head of the Department of Global Health, is pleased about.

“It has been great to see the spike in hand hygiene over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. However fatigue is setting in, and as the risk of COVID declines due to vaccination I fear so will hand washing,” says Gray.

“We need to remain vigilant as hand washing is critical to preventing a myriad of infectious diseases. The big challenge though is for communities where water is scarce and so novel and innovative solutions need to be developed.”

This year’s Global Handwashing Day theme ‘Our Future is at hand – Let’s Move Forward Together’ is a call to action asking us to leverage the experiences of the pandemic in order to address the historic neglect of hand hygiene investments, policies, and programs.

Researchers at RSPH have been supporting this call to action for many years.

“We develop and/or evaluate water and sanitation interventions as well as hygiene education programs alone and in combination that aim to control and eliminate infectious diseases in the Asia-Pacific,” says Gray.

“We’re always looking for innovative low-cost and efficient solutions that can improve the health of people living in remote communities. Right now we are evaluating a silicon water bottle attachment that transforms bottles into a flow controllable portable tap, called SPATAP. As well as the Magic Glasses educational cartoon aimed at increasing knowledge and hygiene behaviour change in children.”

Dr Aparna Lal, an environmental health expert who is leading the SPATAP evaluation, is keen to help address hygiene inequality. Indeed only 60% of the world’s population has access to basic handwashing facilities – one of the most important weapons we have against a myriad of infectious diseases such as gastrointestinal infections, intestinal parasites, and of course COVID-19.

“The pandemic presents an opportune time to make sure that water access becomes universal,” says Lal.

“Climate change further amplifies the risks posed by unsafe and inadequate water supplies. Our recent work has highlighted the lack of standardised practices that measure acceptability of WASH – water, sanitation, and hygiene – interventions. Moving forward to develop climate-resilient WASH interventions that improve health and are sustainable will require community co-design into what is acceptable.”

A continuous supply of clean water is a must for disease prevention, but it is a growing challenge in an increasingly water insecure world. So what can you do to help?

“Turning the tap off while scrubbing your hands – for 30 seconds, brushing your teeth, and washing dishes, needs to become every day practice to ensure water for all. It is like putting on a seatbelt – we do it automatically to save lives,” says Lal.


** Learn about more projects undertaken by the RSPH Global Health Team and Environment, Climate and Health Team, including current COVID-19 activities, and sanitation works in Indonesia, and Magic Glasses.

*** Find out how SPATAP, as invented by Stuart Mason, is being implemented in Rotary’s Hand Hygiene for Health program using or watch their video.

**** For more information about Global Handwashing Day visit their website at: https://globalhandwashing.org/global-handwashing-day/