Photo: Ibrahim Mollik / IFRC

This year COVID-19 reminded the world about the importance of handwashing, and that it is often the first line of defence against any form of bacteria or virus.

Under the theme “Hand Hygiene For All”, Red Cross Red Crescent has been working to ensure all communities are aware of proper and regular handwashing. Realising that not all communities have access to handwashing facilities such as clean water, soap and relevant equipment, we doubled our efforts to ensure communities around the region had access to the basic tools they needed to stay healthy and safe.


Photo: Philippine Red Cross Society

Like other Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies around the region, Philippine Red Cross has made handwashing an integrated part of its efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, from running national education campaigns to teaching kids how to properly wash their hands.

These children-focused programs have been moulded into their efforts to provide food, hygiene kits and testing for COVID-19 in most at risk communities. Prepaid mobile phones have been provided to restore separated families while sharing life-saving information to protect them from the pandemic. These programs have helped children to de-stress, play and have fun.


Photo: Rohan Chakravarthy / Indian Red Cross

Efforts to promote good hygiene and provide water and sanitation equipment have often been carried out in the most difficult circumstances. For the Indian Red Cross Society this included setting up water points and providing information sessions amidst severe floods that hit the Assam district of northeast India in September 2020.


Photo: Viet Nam Red Cross Society

Along with demonstrating proper handwashing techniques, staff and volunteers distribute masks and provide other information about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as part of the coordinated approach to tackling the virus. In countries like Viet Nam, this often involves local Red Cross volunteers going door-to-door in remote communities.


Photo by Sri Lanka Red Cross

Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies also prioritise schools in their efforts to promote good hygiene practices, providing knowledge that students will carry with them beyond the school grounds and share with their families. To ensure students and teachers have the proper facilities and training, many of these programs include setting up handwashing stations, like this one in Sri Lanka.


Photo: Timor-Leste Red Cross Society

Timor-Leste Red Cross has a similar program, with volunteers visiting kindergartens to help start healthy habits in young children as part of their handwashing campaign. It is never too early to learn how to wash your hands, they believe. For children, handwashing is a fun and exciting activity as they get to play with water and soap.


Photo: Philippine Red Cross Society

Many Red Cross Red Crescent handwashing programmes focus on reaching marginalised groups – such as indigenous communities, displaced families and those living in poverty – who may not have access to suitable handwashing facilities. Philippine Red Cross, for example, helped indigenous communities in a remote area of Bataan to set up their water system to have an accessible and a clean water supply.


Photo: Bangladesh Red Crescent Society

In Cox’s Bazar, the water, sanitation and hygiene team of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society spends time with displaced communities (more often in their very homes), informing them about the importance of washing their hands, and how it can reduce the risk of them and their families catching COVID-19.


Photo by Meer Abdullah / Afghan Red Crescent Society

Large towns are just as important. In Kabul, staff and volunteers of the Afghan Red Crescent Society went door-to-door to hand deliver soaps and encourage people to make regular handwashing part of their daily routines.


Photo: Philippine Red Cross Society

COVID-19 was catalyst that accelerated more focus on hygiene programs, especially handwashing. The IFRC is committed to elevating handwashing access and practice in all settings, including households, healthcare facilities, schools, workplaces, and other public spaces.