What is Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)?

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered Coronavirus. Infected with the COVID-19 virus, a person can experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment, while in some cases symptoms can be severe.

With specific treatments or a vaccine not yet available, preventing its spread from person to person is vital to reduce the outbreak's impact on people’s lives, health, livelihoods and the healthcare systems we all rely on.

Handwashing is key to preventing the coronavirus

Frequent, thorough handwashing with soap and water is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19. Like a cold, coronaviruses are spread through droplets from a person coughing or sneezing, and potentially via contaminated surfaces. Good hygiene is key to avoiding spreading it – and catching it.

Handwashing with soap is simple but effective. This is because it inactivates and removes virus particles that may be on our hands. When used propersly, soap effectively dissolve the fatty membrane that surrounds the virus particles, causing them to fall apart and be inactivated.

The water, sanitation and hygiene crisis

Handwashing with soap and clean water is one of the simplest and most effective disease prevention methods available, and is the first line of defence against highly contagious diseases, including the novel corona virus (COVID-19). However, despite established evidence of the effectiveness of good hygiene practice as the first line of defence in the prevention of infectious diseases, about 60 million people in Nigeria lack access to clean water supply services and 150 million people lack basic handwashing facilities with soap and water (WASH NORM, 2018).

Levels of access to water, sanitation and hygiene services in rural communities are even more worrisome, making this segment of the population far more vulnerable. Worse, climate change is piling pressure on water resources that are already overstretched due to inadequate infrastructures, poor water management and insufficient government funding.

Against this backdrop, millions of people are unable to practice frequent handwashing with soap and water and thereby increase their risk of being susceptible to infectious diseases such as COVID-19.

What is WaterAid doing?

WaterAid Nigeria is working with the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Clean Nigeria Campaign Secretariat and WASH Media Network to implement a robust media campaign to highlight the importance of clean water and hygiene behaviours like handwashing with soap, as crucial to controlling and preventing the spread of COVID-19. The campaign which is also driven in WaterAid focal states (Bauchi, Enugu and Plateau) by civil society, state and local government partners, provides a huge opportunity to continue to promote and support the Federal Government’s behaviour change campaign “Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet” by championing handwashing with soap and water as a key hygiene behaviour that is lifesaving.  

Through social media platforms, we are educating our online audience, raising awareness and promoting hygiene practices while engaging key stakeholders to proritise inclusive access to clean water, sanitation and handwashing services, especially for the poorest and marginalised, as a first line of defence to preventing COVID-19 spread. We have developed press releases and continuously share relevant information though broadcasts. Also, radio jingles and drama skits in local dialects have been produced and are currently being broadcast on a number of radio stations across the country to reach a larger audience in their contexts – with an estimated reach of a minimum of 800,000 people per broadcast.

We have developed promotional materials in local languages, designed to inform, educate and communicate messages around key hygiene behaviours. These also serve as reminders in communities where we work, that promote and encourage handwashing with soap and water. Additionally, we created a policy brief and situational map highlighting the need for the government to expand access to sustainable clean water and hygiene services, particularly in marginalised and poor communities. These have been accompanied by advocacy letters to state governors and key decision makers.

We are currently supporting the government scale up water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services by providing non-contact handwashing facilities in public places and health care facilities in our focal states, to promote and encourage handwashing practices. Also, we are part of the WASH Sector COVID-19 Response Coordination Platform, domiciled at the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, which allows the opportunity to influence and guide strategic focus to prioritising WASH access in the fight against COVID-19 to complement health interventions.


Reduce the risk of transmission of Coronavirus

Along with other important behaviours, thoroughly washing hands often and at key moments is essential to controlling the pandemic. The graphic shows five key steps you should take to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 between people.


Our hygiene experts know a lot about how to wash your hands properly, to help prevent the spread of many illnesses, including Coronavirus (COVID-19). They have answered some of the most-asked questions about handwashing below:

Washing both hands with soap and water thoroughly and frequently is the most effective way to remove bacteria.

Rub both hands together vigorously using soap and water until a soapy lather appears. Continue for at least 20 seconds and then wash your hands with water.

Make sure you cover:

  • Palm to palm
  • The back of your hands
  • In between your fingers
  • The back of your fingers
  • Your thumbs
  • The tips of your fingers

Handwashing with soap can of course prevent the spread of diseases like COVID-19, slow down the spread of Ebola and can reduce the likelihood of contracting blinding trachoma. It can also help prevent life-threatening illnesses such as diarrhoeal diseases, cholera, pneumonia and intestinal worms.

These illnesses are very common amongst communities without decent toilets and clean water. For people who have no choice but to go to the toilet in the open, or drink water from unprotected and unsafe sources, bacteria can easily spread.

Diarrhoea caused by dirty water and poor toilets kills a child under 5 every 2 minutes. That's why it's so important that everyone, everywhere has all three basics: clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene.

There's no evidence that washing your hands with cold or hot water makes a difference to killing bacteria. The important thing is to use soap, whatever the temperature of the water.

No. You should wash your hands with soap and water. If water and soap aren't available, use an alcohol based hand-rub.

No. Even after you've washed your hands, you can pick up new bacteria and germs and re-contaminate your hands - so it's really important to keep on washing your hands with soap and water throughout the day. Handwashing is only a good thing.

When you sneeze or cough you release droplets into the air or onto your hands, which is one of the ways viruses spread.

Always wash your hands after sneezing or coughing, to remove any droplets that may have landed on them.

You should only use hand sanitiser if water and soap aren't available, like when you're travelling or outside. If you do use it, you only need to wash your hands again if you think you have exposed yourself to more germs, for example, by touching a surface.