Under Executive Order MOH/45/2019-20/39 issued by the Health Minister of Bhutan, the Ministry of Health, SNV and UNICEF were convened to develop a strategic preparedness and response mechanism to prevent, contain and mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Public spaces were among those identified as high-risk areas. Not only because these are spaces where people normally converge. But also because handwashing with soap and drinking water facilities were few. Most facilities were also inaccessible to children and people with disabilities.
In response, accessible handwashing and drinking facility designs were developed and tested for key areas. These include, for example, the delivery of different facility height options so that these are reachable for children. Wheelchair-accessible ramps next to the facilities were also built. To bring designs to fruition, the team recruited the services of the local private firm, Mawongpa Water Solutions. As a result, 25 accessible handwashing and drinking water stations – with 77 tap points – were set up in public spaces across ten districts. When the facilities were handed over to local governments, agreements were made for the latter to ensure that soap is made available at all times. To ensure the proper functioning of all stations, 23 technicians (with five women) were trained to operate and maintain these facilities.
When we’re away from home, it’s difficult to wash our hands because there are no facilities available (e.g., the bus terminal). The bus might leave us if we search for a place to wash our hands. The newly installed handwashing facility at the bus terminal is very nice and convenient. Now, we don’t even have to buy water from the nearby shop. So we save money too. - Commuter in Thimphu
The handwashing facility installed at the vegetable market is a very good initiative. It is helpful for us (the vendors) and the customers. Before, it was very challenging to maintain hand hygiene and our hands looked very dirty. Now, we can wash our hands easily and we can stay clean most of the time. Children also find it easy to use without our help. - Vegetable vendor from Kabesa, Thimphu
Beyond the delivery of facilities and the training of service professionals, public awareness on proper handwashing techniques were reinforced through the dissemination of hand hygiene posters; all developed in line with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidelines. Posted in strategic locations all over the country and within health care facilities, messages of proper hand hygiene and personal care are expected to reach more than 20,000 people, including children, elderly and people with disabilities.
Photo: Commuters in Bhutan by Aidan Dockery for SNV | All photos by SNV's Tashi Dorji
Notes: This blog is part of the bi-annual success stories of the Beyond the Finish Line - SSH4A in Bhutan project supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Water for Women Fund. It was written by Tashi Dorji.