Getting the largest possible number of people to adopt the practice of washing their hands with soap

Project completed
Colored markers make it possible to verify how effectively schoolchildren have washed their hands
Colored markers make it possible to verify how effectively schoolchildren have washed their hands. © SDC SDC

In developing countries, diarrhea and acute respiratory infections are responsible for two-thirds of infant mortality, i.e., five times more than malaria and thirteen times more than VIH/AIDS. And yet, simply giving your hands a good washing with soap constitutes a very effective way to counter these infectious diseases. In India, the SDC is active in promoting this practice by means of a large-scale awareness-raising campaign involving the social media, famous cricket players, and Bollywood stars.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Drinking water and basic sanitation (WASH) (til 2016)
Infectious desease
01.04.2012 - 30.06.2014
CHF 1'200'000

For some people, washing their hands with soap is clearly evident, while for many it is an evident lack. And yet, this simple act constitutes the most economical means of preventing transmissible illnesses at a time when one child under 5 years of age succumbs to a diarrheal disease every 20 seconds.

“The Great WASH Yatra”: A carnival for awareness-raising

In order for this act to become a habit in India as well, the SDC is supporting a ground-breaking awareness-raising campaign. Being conducted in cooperation with the Government, it fits in as a complement to the investments which the latter has already made in terms of sanitation infrastructures. 

This gigantic hygiene-promotion campaign was minutely planned by WASH-United, a German non-governmental organization in collaboration with Indian communications

specialists. It will take form in an itinerant festival entitled “Yatra”, a Sanskrit term signifying pilgrimage or procession. Over the course of about fifty days, this festival will travel through five States in the center of India, making its way across nearly 1,900 km from the city of Wardha in the Maharashtra to that of Betthia in the Bihar. Similar to a circus making stops in city after city, the Yatra will set up in different Indian cities along the way to offer targeted attractions not only on the theme of washing hands, but also on that of hygiene at home and the utilization of toilettes. A special place will be consecrated to aspects of menstrual hygiene, a subject which has for a long time been placed under taboo and silence, but is henceforth recognized as being an element essential for ensuring the equality and the dignity of women. 

A campaign full of innovation to exert a global influence

The campaign is marked by three innovative aspects:

  • First of all, it is an event planned for an outreach rarely equaled. Taking advantage of marketing techniques and relying on multiple communication channels, the campaign hopes to reach more than 80 million persons.
  • Secondly, it is a positive campaign, avoiding messages of blame and guilt such as “not washing yourself is dirty”, so as to showcase values and symbols which are dear to the Indians. The involvement of national stars from the world of the “king” of sports, i.e., cricket, along with that of Bollywood actors and actresses will contribute to the aura of the event. Moreover, the campaign was launched by Vidya Balan, one of Bollywood’s best known actresses.
  • And lastly, the immediate and longer-term effects will be subject to an in-depth analysis so as to evaluate the concrete impact of the campaign on people’s behavior. Eawag, the aquatic research institute of the Federal Institutes of Technology, has been tasked with measuring the impact. To do so, its Department of System Analysis, Integrated Assessment and Modeling (SIAM), a laboratory for social-system analysis models, will apply a method of analysis already successfully introduced in various countries, in particular with respect to response to cholera epidemics.

If successful, the SDC intends to undertake a second campaign of the same kind on another continent in 2013. The lessons learned from the experience in India should make it possible to demonstrate the pertinence of using positive messages supported by innovative marketing mechanisms. Limited financial investment that may nonetheless prove that the war against dirty hands – and the infections that go along with it - can be won.