Handwashing with soap is one of the most critical actions we can take to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and gastrointestinal illness such as diarrhoea. Yet, in many parts of the world, people don’t have access to basic handwashing facilities at home or in busy public spaces such as toilets, healthcare facilities, schools and transport stations. This is due to a lack of a durable and rapidly deployable, communal handwashing facility that is appealing to use.
deaths among children
Everyone deserves access to hygiene facilities
so we decided to create an open source design that all individuals and organisations can use to better the situation of their own communities. Our primary focus was on increasing handwashing behaviour among vulnerable and crisis affected populations, to reduce the spread of respiratory and diarrhoea-related diseases and save lives. By developing a globally deployable emergency handwashing unit, the project will contribute to Sustainable Development Goal 6 - more specifically Target 6.2 on Sanitation and Hygiene - and Indicator 6.2.1(b) that tracks the proportion of a population with a handwashing facility with soap and water on premises.
Understanding the challenge
During the acute phase of an emergency, sanitation and hygiene practices are compromised, resulting in the rapid spread of infectious diseases. Poor sanitation and hygiene, along with overcrowded living conditions, lead to the rapid spread of diseases, such as diarrhoea, which account for more than 40% of all mortality.
In conflict-affected settings, children are in fact 20 times more likely to die from diarrhoea than from violence and mortality associated with respiratory infections increases by up to 35%.
Handwashing with soap at critical times is a simple but effective practice which can reduce diarrhoeal diseases by up to 48%, reduce respiratory infections by up to 23%, and curb the spread of outbreak-related pathogens such as cholera. However, in crisis-affected settings there are many barriers that prevent handwashing. Proper infrastructure is sometimes not available or may have become dysfunctional; soap and water are not replenished frequently enough; and facilities are shared by many and therefore less desirable to use.
Improving handwashing facilities in humanitarian crises has the potential to create an enabling environment for handwashing behaviour and habits. However, before Jengu, there were no handwashing units available for mass procurement. There has also been a lack of guidance for practitioners on how to design and build locally-made facilities or adapt them to meet the needs of different users such as children and people with reduce mobility.
Total design of a new blueprint
For two years the team of designers, engineers, development specialists and behavioural psychologists went back to the drawing board. The iterative process of learning and innovation involved potential providers and people who will use the unit to feed directly into the design. Rather than rush to design a solution, the consortium partners spent an extended period of time defining and understanding the handwashing challenge.
For 14 months they investigated the problem through literature, a survey of humanitarian specialists and the careful analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of existing facilities. This culminated in field research in a refugee camp in Uganda, including watching and talking to residents about their needs and preferences.
This intensive investigation informed the brief for the design and initial prototypes for adults, children and people with reduced mobility.
The prototypes were trialled first during British Army training camps. A small batch of prototypes were in stalled and used by hundreds of residents in a refugee camp in Uganda. Interviews with staff from the camp and crisis-affected population showed positive results and helped to identify further areas of development and improvements to the latest prototype.
A unique team
A unique partnership was formed to improve handwashing in humanitarian contexts and the world’s poorest communities.
To create Jengu, experts in international development, product design, engineering and behavioural factors from Arup worked with WASH and health advisors from British Red Cross and hygiene and behavioural change researchers from the London School of Hygiene and tropical Medicine.
The combination of diverse thinking and skills, with shared commitments and a co-creation process, represents a new way of addressing complex challenges in humanitarian and development work.
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