A message from WaterAid UK’s Director of International Programmes, in response to the coronavirus outbreak

24 March 2020
WaterAid/ Laura Pannack

We’re living through a deeply worrying time. To defeat this pandemic, we’re being asked to do the one thing that our instincts can hardly bear – to stay apart. And yet, while we may be separated physically, we can and must work together to tackle this global crisis.

The World Health Organization (WHO) advises that washing our hands frequently and thoroughly is essential to control the spread of COVID-19.

As specialists in helping people to change their hygiene habits – particularly with regard to handwashing – I wanted to reassure you that we’re urgently scaling up this activity as much as we can to help limit the spread of coronavirus.

We’ve been promoting good hygiene for 40 years. Now more than ever, habits like frequent and thorough handwashing are crucial to stop diseases like coronavirus spreading.

The WHO has now warned Africa to prepare for the worst as COVID-19 cases rise. Not only do many African countries have painfully fragile health systems, but millions of people don't have anywhere to wash their hands – making it both alarmingly easy for the virus to spread and harder to treat.

For example, in Ethiopia, which has seen the number of detected cases rise this week, nearly half of healthcare facilities have no facilities for staff or patients to wash their hands at the point of care. This makes it almost impossible to create a hygienic environment, particularly when tackling a highly infectious disease.

In sub-Saharan Africa two in five people do not have anywhere to wash their hands at home and knowledge of how and why to wash hands properly is not widespread.

What WaterAid is doing to help stop the spread of Coronavirus

  • We're working with governments to make sure that many more people have somewhere to wash their hands in areas where people need them most, making it easier for them to keep their hands clean and protect themselves from this devastating virus.
  • We're 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.
A girl washes her hands as she enters Niala Health Centre, Cercle de Bla, Segou Region, Mali. April 2018.
WaterAid/ Guilhem Alandry

If you would like to support us to carry out this essential work, please donate to our coronavirus emergency appeal.

Of course, right now handwashing is equally important here in the UK – if you find them helpful, please do use our resources and advice and share them with your communities and loved ones, some of them are particularly useful for children.

We are committed to carrying out our work through this challenging time – we know that lives will depend on it, as they always have. We're committed to keeping you updated on that work as we normally would, though I fully appreciate how many other things you will have on your mind, and wish you and everyone you care for all the very best.

As WaterAiders, as humans, we are in this together – while apart.

Find out more about our response to COVID-19