Peruvian children wash their hands if their mothers, rather than the television, teach them

November 21, 2012


Handwashing in schools and households of Peru is not a task only for television or radio campaigns, it also requires a big commitment of the community.

Water and Sanitation Program - World Bank

  • Radio and television campaigns are ineffective if not accompanied by community actions.
  • Households and schools are the best environments for raising awareness on the importance of hygiene.
  • Studies have demonstrated that a practice as simple as handwashing with soap can prevent disease and even death.

A major media campaign has little or no effect on persuading children from Peru and other nations to wash their hands. By contrast, if the subject is addressed at home or in schools and children are given access to soap and water, many more will have clean hands. But who teaches the parents, teachers and children?

The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing (2003-2010) was implemented by Peru, Senegal, Tanzania and Vietnam, with technical assistance from the World Bank Water and Sanitation Program (WSP). The main objective is to promote handwashing with soap at three key times: before meals, before cooking and after using the toilet.

Why is handwashing important?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), diarrhea and acute respiratory infections are responsible for two-thirds of the deaths of children under age five in Latin America. Handwashing with soap can prevent these illnesses by reducing the transmission of fecal contaminants to a minimum.

In Peru, handwashing is still not a widespread practice. A 2008 IMASEN study reported that the lack of soap was a major obstacle for achieving effective handwashing. Nevertheless, other research (PRISMA 2003) found that 99% of Peruvian households have soap but that it is not accessible to children since mothers tend to put it away to prevent them from using it up. 

" I have learned a lot about healthy practices at the Wawa Wasi childcare center. Now I teach the children to wash their hands after using the toilet and before eating. "

Jessica Quizpe

Childcare worker at the Wawa Wasi childcare center in San Juan de Lurigancho, Lima

How can we promote handwashing?

Studies point to a need to create a new device, an efficient soap dispenser that is visible in homes and above all is easy to use. These soap dispensers also should be available in schools and health centers.

Organizations participating in the initiative include the Ministry of Health, USAID, the Swiss Development Corporation (SDC) and nearly 50 private companies, private foundations and non-governmental organizations.

The Duraplast Plastics Company introduced a soap dispenser made of recycled plastic which holds two three-liter soap containers, each with push-pull levers. In addition, a homemade recipe for liquid soap was developed: ¼ of a bar of soap dissolved in three litters of hot water in a bottle plus another full bottle of water.

The prototypes were tested in schools and households in rural areas of the Peruvian coast and highlands. Results were encouraging. Handwashing with soap increased by nearly 30% in schools.

Thanks to the 200,000 dispensers distributed during 2009 and 2010, handwashing with soap in households and schools increased significantly throughout the country. This dispenser was the key element of the nationwide campaign.

 “I learned a lot about healthy practices at the Wawa Wasi childcare center. Now I teach the children to wash their hands after using the toilet and before eating,” said Jessica Quizpe, childcare worker at the Wawa Wasi childcare center in San Juan de Lurigancho, Lima.

Moreover, Super Jaboncín, the superhero created for promotional purposes, encouraged children to learn proper handwashing techniques and to introduce them in their homes, thereby increasing project impact.

The next steps…

The celebration of Global Handwashing Day in Peru is an indicator of the growing importance of this practice in the country.

In 2011, 40,000 schoolchildren washed their hands simultaneously for a new Guinness Book record. The event was organized by the ministries of Health, Education and Women.

Although this was only a promotional event, its achievement demonstrates that protecting the health of the population, especially children, is a priority for the Peruvian government.