Promoting good hygiene habits, especially handwashing, has been a core part of our work since we started.

As COVID-19 becomes a bigger threat to the countries we work in, we'll be increasing our work in hygiene promotion.

Right now, our teams around the world are urgently scaling up work to install handwashing facilities in areas where people need them most, and to launch public awareness campaigns making sure that everyone knows how important it is to wash their hands with soap, when to do it and how to do it right.

We'll be building on the work we already do to make sure everyone, everywhere understands the value of good hygiene. But to support the prevention of coronavirus, we'll be focusing specifically on:

  • Putting in handwashing facilities in areas where people need them most, making it easier for them to keep their hands clean and protect themselves.
  • Launching handwashing campaigns across all the countries where we work, making sure that everyone, wherever they live, knows how important it is to wash their hands with soap, when to do it and how to do it right.

The spread of illnesses like COVID-19 reminds us how vital good hygiene is – but what if you didn't have access to clean water to help protect yourself?

When people are denied access to clean water and decent toilets, their hygiene and health suffer. Poor hygiene means children get sick and miss school, adults can't work to support their families and patients are at risk in health centres. Whole communities miss out on opportunities to improve their lives.

In fact, many get no chance at life at all. Every two minutes a child under five dies from diarrheal diseases caused by a lack of safe water, sanitation and poor hygiene practices.

So when a community gets clean water and decent toilets for the first time, they also have the power to change their hygiene habits. They can keep themselves and their environment clean, stay healthy and stop diseases spreading, and live dignified lives.

    What do we mean when we talk about hygiene?

    Hygiene can be hard to define as it covers so many behaviors, from personal hygiene like handwashing, food hygiene and menstrual hygiene, to the clean use of toilets and the safe use of water. Some groups of people are also more affected by poor hygiene – especially people with disabilities, young girls, women and babies.


    Whether it's after going to the toilet, before eating or when you're preparing a meal, washing your hands is one of the easiest ways to prevent the spread of disease.

    Vivian, 15, WASH Club member (L) and Martha, 11 (R) make sanitary towels at School, Uganda, July 2017
    Image: WaterAid/ Eliza Powell


    In many countries periods are still a huge taboo, meaning girls never learn how to manage them properly, and schools lack decent toilets and washing facilities – leading to many girls missing class when they’re on their period.

    Michael, 34, a nurse at Wurm CHPS, Ghana. October 2018.
    Image: WaterAid/ Apagnawen Annankra


    New mothers and their babies are especially vulnerable to disease, so the health centres they give birth in must be clean and safe environments. Yet around the world 1 in 6 health centres don’t have soap or water for handwashing.

    Kanchhi, 51, tending to her vegetables in her small kitchen garden, in Nepal, January 2019.
    Image: WaterAid/ Sokmeng You

    Food hygiene

    Around 70% of cases of diarrhea are thought to be linked to poor food hygiene. So washing your hands before preparing or eating food, as well as cleaning equipment and ingredients, are all vital in stopping sickness spreading.

    Image: WaterAid/ GMB Akash

    We know through experience that there's no one-size-fits-all approach, and simply explaining the importance of good hygiene isn't enough to make lasting change happen. That's why we listen to people to understand what really drives them to take up new hygiene habits.