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WASH and NTDs finally make it official

Sarah Bartlett, October 2015
A close up photo of someone washing their hands.

Many of you may have heard noise recently about the World Health Organization’s commitment to support collaboration between WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) and NTDs (neglected tropical diseases).

It’s all true! And it’s hugely exciting because it puts unprecedented focus on the WASH component of the NTDs strategy (which has been a bit of a misunderstood ugly duckling until now).

But why does this new committed relationship matter?

The strategy calls on actors from both sectors to mobilise technical expertise and resources to ensure that investments in WASH reach those most in need – and achieve common goals such as health, wellbeing, equity and shared prosperity. The focus is on four key pillars (see page 5 here for full description):

  • Improve awareness
  • Use WASH and NTDs monitoring
  • Strengthen evidence
  • Plan, deliver and evaluate

Putting policy into practice in our NTD programmes

For Sightsavers’ day-to-day work in NTDs, this new, WHO-stamped shared agenda means:

  • A powerful global mandate to emphasis WASH-related interventions – they’re not a nice-to-have in elimination programs, but a MUST-have. This ties directly into current work on the SAFE strategy to eliminate trachoma – our programs are focusing on the F&E (facial cleanliness and environmental improvement) elements more and more, especially with the help of the F&E toolkit. See more below on some of our F&E work in Africa to eliminate trachoma.
  • A new programmatic focus on changing social norms and behaviours as well as ensuring infrastructure needs are met. In other words, we want to create a demand for WASH services through better messaging and work with the WASH sector to make sure these services are available.
  • A new set of joint indicators for programmes which we are leading to develop in collaboration with several organisations and academic institutions. Using a research methodology to achieve consensus through expert consultation, we’ll ensure that we have common measures across programmes to understand impact and improve interventions.

Overall, this is a clear step away from siloed programming, which will in turn contribute to the broader development agenda. And that is something to celebrate!

We’re already putting policy into practice in our NTD programmes:

Three countries, three new approaches to WASH and NTDs

Uganda’s revision and dissemination of School Sanitation and National Sanitation guidelines
Under The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust Trachoma Initiative, we’re working with the Carter Center to eliminate blinding trachoma. These revised curricula for schools and a new national strategic set of guidelines will include facial cleanliness, WASH, and trachoma prevention. This is an impressive display of collaboration between several sectors including NTDs, WASH, education and the Ministry of Health.

Trachoma elimination

Zambia’s behavior change campaigns and use of technology
Through our UK Department for International Development funded trachoma elimination programme in Zambia, we’re working with Akros, supplying multi-media messages, materials and interactive content to local decisionmakers to promote healthy hygiene and sanitation practices. We’re also adapting the national electronic health system to include data capture and reporting on trachoma and face washing indicators.

Working with Unilever in Kenya
Unilever’s ‘School of Five’ 21-day handwashing campaign was enhanced to include facewashing to help in the fight against trachoma. Together we piloted the programme in 10 schools – facewashing events in those schools went from 22 per cent before the intervention to over 75 per cent, and in the household, from 17 per cent to 40 per cent.  The program will be scaled up to over 100 schools in the coming years.

By Sarah Bartlett, mHealth Advisor

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