The tippy tap: a vital tool to stop disease spreading

Kebby using the tippy tap outside his home.

How can a rope, a recycled water jug and four wooden poles help to fight debilitating neglected tropical diseases such as trachoma?

They are all used to make a tippy tap: a home-made device enabling people to wash their hands and faces in areas where there’s no running water.

In many poorer countries, a lack of clean water and basic sanitation can cause infectious diseases such as trachoma to spread more easily. If an infected person touches their eyes or nose and doesn’t wash their hands, they can easily pass on the bacteria to others.

The tippy tap is invaluable because it’s simple to build and it enables people to keep their hands and faces clean, which dramatically reduces the risk of infection.

As part of the SAFE strategy to fight these diseases, Sightsavers is helping people to build tippy taps outside their homes, near farms, and in schools to make sure they can wash their hands and faces after using the toilet or handling animals. This work is made possible through funding from organisations such as UK aid and the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust.

Aluna from Tanzania has her eyes checked for trachoma. They are visibly red and swollen.

What is trachoma?

This bacterial infection is spread through contact with infected flies and via poor hygiene. If it's not treated, it causes the eyelashes to turn inwards, scraping the eyeball and eventually causing blindness.

What is trachoma?

How does a tippy tap work?

A close-up of the plastic bottle and sticks used to make a tippy tap.

1. Assemble the parts

A tippy tap is made from a container of water suspended from a wooden frame. A rope is attached to the container, then connected to a stick on the ground.

A health worker washing her hands using a tippy tap.

2. Press the lever

Pushing on the stick with your foot causes the container to tip up, releasing water without you having to touch the container and get your hands dirty.

Soap hangs in an empty plastic bottle next to the tippy tap.

3. Don’t forget the soap

Soap is attached to the tippy tap with rope: this encourages good hygiene and ensures the soap is only touched when washing, so it never touches the ground.

Kebby using the tippy tap outside his home in Zambia.

The tippy tap in action

Kebby using the tippy tap outside his home in Zambia.

In Zambia, 11-year-old Kebby has learned the importance of hygiene through Sightsavers' Super School of Five project, which uses superhero characters to encourage children to wash their hands and faces. Kebby and his sisters have shared these good habits with their family.

“They told us how important it was to wash our hands with soap,” explains Kebby's aunt Rondah. “Because of this, we built a tippy tap and new toilet.”

The End is in Sight: our campaign to eliminate trachoma

About the campaign

More stories from Focus

Trachoma patient Mariam outside her home in Benin.
Sightsavers from the field

“I want to be able to dance again”

Sightsavers’ Katya Mira witnessed the first round of eye operations in Benin to treat blinding trachoma, and saw three women’s lives transformed.

October 2019
Babacar performs surgery wearing protective equipment on a trachoma patient.
Sightsavers from the field

Saving sight in Senegal during the COVID-19 pandemic

Without eye surgeon Babacar's efforts, people could have been at risk of going blind from the advanced form of trachoma during the lockdown.

July 2020
Landscape with rubbish and cows.
Sightsavers from the field

COVID-19: updates from around the world

Find out how our staff and partners in Bangladesh, Nigeria, India and Senegal are adapting amid the COVID-19 crisis.

May 2020