A recent study on “Prevalence and Correlates of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene and Spatial Distribution of Unimproved WASH in Nepal” from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health” has raised the timely scope of hand hygiene.
This study has demonstrated the highest rate of hand hygiene is available in New Zealand (72 percent) followed by the United States (50 percent) and so on. Nepal’s hand hygiene practice is lower than 50 percent, according to the Nepal Democratic and Health Survey of 2016. There are a number of factors affecting hand hygiene. They include a low level of education, low wealth index, geographical disparities, and unavailability of services. Besides, it is assumed that people’s careless behavior has also contributed to the problem.
According to recent research published in February 2022, the rate for access to an improved water source is higher than those for the availability of soap and water in handwashing places. Research findings suggest that we need to focus on health promotion, advocacy, water and hygiene services, and policy and strategy approaches for household-level services. A collaborative intervention beyond health, such as agriculture, education, water and sewage management, transportation among others must be endorsed for ensuring good quality water services in different settings in Nepal. An enabling environment should be created at household level, offices and factories to provide improved water for hand hygiene.
Nepal is one of the richest water source countries where approximately 95 percent of households can have an improved water source but its proper management and distribution remains challenging.
The theme of World Water Day this year is “Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible”. Groundwater is available through a tube well in the Tarai region of Nepal. But the studies show that there is still a lack of quality water sources in Karnali and far-western provinces. Studies suggest advocacy, creating an enabling environment, preserving water sources, water treatment and its adequate management and implementation of available policies and strategies can help in ensuring people’s access to water.
World Water Day can help create significant national interventions to raise awareness and sensitization among people on water issues. Local stakeholders, women’s groups, Female Community Health Volunteers, public and private organizations together mark this occasion to make it successful. They all are alert about this issue and worried about promoting water sources, their management and distribution in Nepal. Stakeholders related with health, and beyond health, must take the responsibility for improving water sources and thereby improving hand hygiene.
Nepal’s 15th National Plan has given a priority to “health and hygiene”. This means Nepal has given a priority to improve hygiene in any setting which is an unfinished agenda of Millennium Development Goals. These recent studies have also recommended formulating hand hygiene strategies. Such strategies would have important policy implications for WASH implementers, researchers, and policymakers. The assessment of water coverage is an instrumental tool for future program planning to ensure the equitable and affordable distribution of sustainable practices.
This is the right time for the authorities to explore research-based best practices and campaign for effective, cost-effective interventions. Targeted education, water and sanitation services are important for improving universal water access in Nepal. This can play a significant role in the formulation of context-specific policy related to water at federal, provincial and local levels.
Within this discourse, the governments should focus on timely initiation and sustainable management of services to overcome these challenges and to improve facilities, particularly with a focus on hand hygiene, in line with the Nepal Health Sector Strategy Implementation Plan and SDG-6. Addressing the hygiene component timely is important to support SDG 6 significantly including SDG 1 “no poverty”, SDG 3 “good health and wellbeing”, SDG 4 “quality education”, and SDG 5 “gender equality.”
(Dr Bhakta Bahadur KC is Senior Health Administrator at MoHP. Dr Shalik Ram Dhital is Health Education Officer at NHEICC. He has obtained his PhD in Public Health and Behavioral Sciences from the University of Newcastle, Australia.)