Handwashing works. But to be effective you need to do it frequently and do it properly.”
Dr. Foyeke Tolani is a Public Health Promotion Advisor for Oxfam
I joined Oxfam to save lives, and an important part of this is promoting healthy handwashing to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
What we've learned during the Coronavirus outbreak
During the coronavirus outbreak we’ve learned not just to do it before eating and after using the toilet, but also before touching our face, using soap and water to break the virus down. Foam destroys the cell membranes, and water rinses it off.
We also need to practice general hygiene, especially respiratory hygiene, for example, and cleaning commonly touched surfaces. Physical distancing is equally important and shielding vulnerable people that may be more susceptible to the virus.
What we've learned from outbreaks of other diseases
One of the key things we’ve learned is that we really need to engage with communities to help people understand the importance of handwashing with soap.
Effective handwashing can be motivated by fear, but as soon as an emergency is over, people fall back to normal practices. It is essential to listen, have conversations, and build trust rather than just telling people what to do. Over time, this is what ultimately leads to acceptance or rejection.
How does Oxfam work with communities to tackle outbreaks of disease?
First, we assess the situation, and we talk to people. We listen, and feed back to the community what we have heard. We ask people “what do you think you can do?” and “what help do you need from us?”
We ask people 'what do you think you can do?' and 'what help do you need from us?'”
Dr Foyeke Tolani, Public Health Promotion Advisor, Oxfam
How does Oxfam prepare for a coronavirus outbreak?
It depends on the stage of the outbreak in each country. It’s important for Oxfam to understand where there are gaps, and if we can help to fill them. We always ask where our knowledge and equipment is best focused and how to prevent coronavirus using our existing programmes of work.
- We make sure our coronavirus response is part of our ongoing work.
- We seek to understand [what] will help us to get to the people who need us most.
- We provide clean water supplies and sanitation where people are quarantined.
- And Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers.
I joined Oxfam as our goal is to save lives
While doing my doctorate testing medicinal remedies for diarrhoea-related diseases, I saw that children and mothers suffer a lot. In the 90s, I was contacted by MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières) to investigate a cholera outbreak in a slum area in Lagos, Nigeria and got very interested in the prevention side.
I loved working with communities, finding solutions together, and seeing the immediate impact.
Effective handwashing has a huge impact
In some cases, we estimate this has led to a 50% – 70% reduction in disease. It means people are able to work, and children can go to school. It reduces the burden on carers and gives people time back to enjoy being a family, all of which is vital for positive mental health. People feel more confident with clean hands, the perfume lifts them up.
I joined Oxfam as our goal is to save lives, and an important part of this is promoting healthy handwashing practices to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases. I am able to research ways to make handwashing easier for people, especially more vulnerable people facing disasters. Handwashing is an important thing to do, and we can make it happen.
Getting safe clean water flowing worldwide
The famous Oxfam Water Tank, first deployed more than 40 years ago, is now used all over the world.
Oxfam’s technical team use water tanks used by British farmers for water storage in emergencies. The first ones were put into use in 1976. Today, more than 40 years after they were invented, humanitarian agencies around the world use the Oxfam water tank.
Oxfam worked with Surrey University to produce the Delagua water testing kit.
In emergencies, the water we source needs to be tested before it can be used. This kit has been designed to enable local communities to check whether the water is contaminated, and make sure the chlorine level is safe for drinking.
Oxfam provided safe drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the Rwanda genocide.
Between 1994 and 1996, in the largest operation in our history, Oxfam provided safe drinking water for hundreds of thousands of refugees in Tanzania and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) within days of their arrival - and until they went home over a year later.
Zimbabwe: thousands of jerry cans sourced. Countless lives saved.
In Zimbabwe in early 2009, in a country already reeling from food shortages, a cholera outbreak threatened thousands of lives. Our rapid response team got there fast. In the town of Ngoni, we provided families with hygiene kits including 20 litre jerry cans, one kilogram of soap, water purification tablets, cotton wool and pamphlets on how to prevent cholera. Simple, brilliant, life-saving solutions.
After the earthquake in Haiti, we delivered over 300m litres of clean water to people every month
We worked to ensure that people had access to clean, safe drinking water. In total we provided clean water and sanitation facilities to approximately 400,000 people displaced by the earthquake.
These worms save lives. Oxfam's Tiger Worm Toilets turn waste into fertiliser.
We first started developing our amazing Tiger Worm toilets in 2013. The worms decompose the waste and turn it into clean, safe fertiliser. Which means better sanitation and fewer health problems for poor communities and refugee camps around the world. It's just one of the ingenious ways Oxfam is helping people escape poverty, for good.
Our frontline staff are helping thousands of Rohingya refugees fight Coronavirus.
In Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, where Rohingya people are living in extremely overcrowded conditions, we stepped up our work on hygiene promotion, soap distribution and sanitation facilities to help 70,000 refugees.
Water for 100,000 people in Central African Republic
To help stop the spread of the coronavirus, our teams on the field are installing 20 temporary emergency water points in the Central African capital, which will be gradually replaced by 10 permanent boreholes, so that nearly 100,000 people will have access to clean water.