The importance of personal hygiene practices has been a consistent public health theme throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Even something as simple as handwashing helps control the spread of infections: one MIT study found that tripling the number of air travelers washing their hands from 20% to 60% slowed infection spread by almost 70%.
Despite this, frequent handwashing has yet to become a habit in many parts of the world. Globla surveys from before the pandemic have found that only 20% of people was their hands after using the bathroom.
But personal behavior can be influenced by poor infrastructure: in this case, poor access to clean water and sanitation systems. According to NGO WaterAid, approximately 289,000 children under the age of five die each year from diseases caused by unclean water, inadequate sanitation and handwashing facilities.
Time for a Rethink: The HappyTap Model
In 2016, GIFT facilitated the Global Leaders Programme to develop a new product to help make handwashing with soap easier for Vietnamese communities. The field project was conducted, in partnership with HappyTap Co. Ltd, a Vietnamese social enterprise established in 2014 dedicated to providing market-based solutions to the provision of clean water and proper sanitation.
Vietnam has handled COVID-19 remarkably well, especially considering its proximity to China: this is the result of strong social cohesion, clear public messaging, and firm government action.
However, poor infrastructure has limited the adoption of positive personal hygiene behaviors. Only 3% of mothers reported washing their hands with soap before preparing dinner. Five million people in Vietnam reported practicing open defecation, and fewer than 10% are connected to sewer networks with water treatment. Ailments related to poor hygiene carries an estimated economic cost of USD 262 million annually.