Hygiene promotion encompasses a systematic attempt to adequately promote personal, domestic, environmental and food hygiene practices that prevent or mitigate the transmission of diseases.

Promoting safe hygiene is especially important in post-disaster settings where individuals are more vulnerable to illness and death from disease. In a camp setting, where large numbers of people live in highly congested, often-unsanitary conditions, the spread of water, sanitation and hygiene-related diseases can easily occur. Diarrheal and infectious diseases transmitted through a faeco-oral route pose a significant risk to such populations without the consistent practice and promotion of personal and domestic hygiene. Simple hand washing with soap can reduce diarrhoeal disease incidence by nearly half and respiratory diseases by nearly a quarter, yet handwashing is only practiced by one in every five people in the world. Mothers who regularly wash their hands can reduce fatal infections in newborns. The practice accounts for 16% of the total lives saved among children under 5.

Hygiene promotion can be done through several means ranging from face-to-face discussions, media campaigns, and poster displays, to the creation of community health and hygiene groups that share information and stories on hygiene promotion. After assessing key behaviors, motivators and barriers to adequate hygiene in communities, it is important to identify groups and appropriate communication channels and activities that can be used to promote hygiene effectively. The methods chosen should be field tested when possible. To support and promote personal hygiene, humanitarian organizations distribute hygiene kits at household and individual level according to the local context. The hygiene kits contain most items required to practice adequate hygiene, including soap, menstrual hygiene supplies and materials for anal cleaning, water containers and other culturally appropriate items that may be needed.

Our Response

Widely recognized as the most cost-effective intervention in the WASH sector, hygiene promotion is integrated into all of our WASH projects to enable communities we serve to better protect themselves from the threat of WASH borne diseases.

International Medical Corps routinely implements activities in hygiene and sanitation promotion as part of its WASH programs. These activities are based on sector best practice. They are contextually appropriate, adequately monitored and have the goal of long-term behavior change. International Medical Corps’ hygiene promotion interventions combine carefully considered message dissemination campaigns, focus group discussions, special activities or topic-specific awareness campaigns that accompany the distribution of items or complete kits containing items relevant to the messaging. We also promote hygiene awareness and hand washing messages as part of our nutrition programs and at the health facilities where we work. Examples of our Hygiene Promotion activities:

NEPAL in the aftermath of a 7.8-magnitude earthquake in 2015.
International Medical Corps worked to reduce the risks from waterborne and sanitation-related diseases by building emergency latrines and handwashing stations, distributing hygiene supplies to affected families, and promoting good hygiene practices. As part of our effort to improve basic sanitation, 87 per cent of households with latrine facilities had hand washing facilities near their toilet in areas where International Medical Corps conducted WASH programs.

As the earthquake response transitioned to longer-term recovery initiatives, International Medical Corps worked with local partners to support sustained WASH interventions, such as the rehabilitation of local water infrastructure in badly damaged districts, the construction and repair of damaged sanitation infrastructure in health facilities and schools, and continued hygiene education at the community level. In the wake of the disaster, International Medical Corps distributed hygiene kits containing basic supplies, such as soap, water containers and detergent, sufficient to assist a household of up to five people. In the early phase of the response and during monsoon season, International Medical Corps distributed more than 5,000 hygiene kits, sufficient to assist up to 25,000 people in earthquake-affected districts.

THE PHILIPPINES, following Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
WASH services were among the most urgently needed interventions after Typhoon Haiyan caused large-scale damage to water and sanitation infrastructure. Such damage threatened the health of vulnerable communities and put children in particular at risk of contracting communicable diseases. In response, International Medical Corps focused efforts on the supply of clean water and hygiene promotion to at-risk schools. Our teams rehabilitated WASH systems at over 100 schools in Leyte Province and trained teachers on proper hygiene practices, then trained teachers and students as hygiene champions who trained others in hygiene promotion and spread messages about hand washing and sanitation throughout their communities.

ETHIOPIA, in refugee camps.
International Medical Corps staff in Ethiopia employ a variety of methods to promote hygiene in local communities and in the refugee camps located there. In addition to constructing communal latrines at health centers, installing roof rain water harvesting systems, rehabilitating water boreholes, providing water storage containers and water purification materials to households and health posts, we provide training to health workers and community volunteers on appropriate sanitation and hygiene practices. We have worked in three Somali refugee camps to improve access to sanitation and hygiene facilities for over 130,000 refugees. Through mass awareness campaigns and home visits, we educated refugees on hand-washing, hygienic latrine usage, safe-water chains and solid waste disposal. In the Bokolmayo refugee camp, we have promoted improved handwashing and sanitation practices since 2012. As a result, 90% of the camp population was made aware of the importance of handwashing practices, which in turn reduced WASH related illnesses and was instrumental in preventing outbreaks of acute watery diarrhea, including cholera.

ZIMBABWE, fighting cholera.
We helped address a 2008-2009 cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe and in the years since, we have worked to lift the quality of public health, including reducing the risk of WASH-related diseases by increasing access to clean water and improving personal hygiene practices.

We helped transform local rural knowledge and behavior in Zimbabwe, leading over 300 “community health clubs” across Matabeleland North and South which teach improved hygiene practices and demonstrate how to create hygiene-enabling facilities such as tippy taps and pot drying racks. Two years of messaging delivered through these clubs led to sharply increased use of soap or ash to wash their hands, reducing the cases of potentially life-threatening diarrhea and helping prevent another cholera outbreak.

We distributed 57,014 hygiene kits in 2016

Our WASH programs reached more than 400,000 with targeted hygiene practices in 2016

More than 2,600 individuals received training as part of our WASH programs in 2016