Communicating the importance of washing hands with soap to avoid Covid-19 spread is a daunting task in India as only 35.8 per cent households in the country practise hand-washing with soap or detergent before a meal while 60 per cent households wash hands only with water.

The National Sample Survey (NSS) 76th round report, 2019, reveals that 25.3 per cent households in rural India and 56 per cent in urban wash hands with soap or detergent before a meal; 2.7 per cent households in India wash hands with ash, mud, and sand before meals.

In rural areas, 70 per cent people wash hands with water without soap or detergent before a meal and in urban areas, 42 per cent of people follow this practice.

Alarming numbers

What is more alarming is that about 26 per cent people in India don’t wash their hands with soap or detergent after defecation. 13.4 per cent households (15.2 per cent rural and 9.8 per cent urban) wash hands only with water after defecation. Two-third toilets in India have water and soap/detergent available in or around the toilets.

“We need to address the entire sanitation value chain to prevent Covid-19. The recent Lancet research report clearly says the virus stays alive in human stool for 11 days. That is why the Swachh Bharat Mission and its sustainability is so crucial to mitigate and prevent pandemics like Covid-19,” said Yusuf Kabir, WASH specialist, Unicef, Maharashtra.

“There is no faecal oral transmission evidence of the coronavirus but safe containment of faeces is key," Yusuf Kabir told BusinessLine .

Param Iyer, Secretary, Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation (DDWS), Ministry of Jal Shakti, has appealed for sustaining Open Defecation Free (ODF) status and reach to the unreached with infrastructure and behaviour messaging.

The two must go together

“Handwashing with soap and safe containment of faeces should go simultaneously. Hand-washing with soap in rural areas is still a challenge, open disposal of child faeces is nearly 60 per cent and toilet access and usage is 80-85 per cent. This is cause for concern and the Lancet study and the intervention from DDWS and Maharashtra Water Supply and Sanitation Department are timely” Kabir added.

The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation conducted a survey on drinking water, sanitation, hygiene and housing condition as a part of the 76th round of NSS in 2019.