It starts with hand washing. The basic preventative measure to staying well from a wide array of infectious diseases is to correctly wash your hands with soap and water.

In grade schools all over the world, students learn songs that teach them how to wash their hands. In the United States, signs are posted in public bathrooms reminding us to wash our hands.

But, really, how many of us wash our hands thoroughly and correctly every time? And, if asked, how many of us could demonstrate the correct way to wash our hands?

It sometimes is very hard to understand that a behavior as simple as washing your hands with soap and water can combat an illness as deadly as the Ebola virus. But it can.

That’s why WCI’s social mobilizers are participating in refresher training on hand washing and taking that behavior to their communities.

Continuing the Hand Washing Behavior

During the height of the Ebola virus outbreak in Liberia, chloride-water solution stations were installed at public buildings and a number of households, and they were regularly used. People of all ages in both urban and rural communities were instructed on how to use the chloride solutions.  Among the first messages disseminated in response to the Ebola outbreak was to wash your hands with chloride-water This message was strongly supported by the government of Liberia’s Ministry of Health and disseminated through social mobilization activities like WCI under the Ebola-Community Activity Platform (E-CAP).

In Liberia, reported cases of the Ebola virus are diminishing, and the shift from chloride-water to soap and water is underway. Hand washing remains a critical long-term public health strategy for Ebola prevention, and it is important that people continue the behavior as the country moves forward.

Social Mobilization Training

Though we all think we know how to correctly wash our hands, it is important to have refresher training. WCI organized a refresher training session for its social mobilizers in Tubmanburg in Bomi County. The training was led by field officer Morris Taweh. In addition to the refresher on how to correctly hand wash, there was a discussion with the mobilizers on how to ensure the practice of hand washing continues in homes, schools, and public places, and throughout rural communities.

With the expense of chloride and reduced availability of subsidized sachets, the focus is on using soap and water. Iron Soap, a locally-made soap, is affordable and widely available.  Iron Soap can be shaved and used as a powder for cleaning or used in its original solid block form for hand-washing.

Mobilizers at the training session explained that it is just as important to promote hand washing with Iron Soap as it was to use chloride solution to keep Liberia Ebola-free in the future. They focused on how to reinforce effective hand-washing techniques and make sure people take their time and don’t rush through the steps. . “We need to figure out simple ways to remind people to do it and do it right,” one mobilizer said.

Training poster illustrating the steps for effective hand washing

Training poster illustrating the steps for effective hand washing.

At the training session, Morris shared the graphic instructions on how to correctly wash hands. Then, the mobilizers each demonstrated the correct hand-washing procedure and talked through each step so that they could help reinforce the behavior in their communities.

A mobilizer demonstrates hand-washing following instructions from the training chart.

A mobilizer demonstrates hand-washing following instructions from the training chart.

After finishing the demonstration, a number of the mobilizers suggested that the chart should be posted at hand-washing stations in schools and other public places as a good reminder of the steps.

WCI will continue to demonstrate hand washing  as a preventive action against Ebola infection as part of its community mobilization efforts. WCI plans to produce the graphic as a flyer to be distributed and posted in homes and schools and throughout the communities.

“Washing hands is a critical behavior for preventing the spread of the Ebola virus,” Morris reminded the group.  “Everyone knows it. Let’s make sure they remember to do it.”

Women’s Campaign International currently is an implementing partner with UNICEF and USAID’s Ebola-Community Action Platform (E-CAP) in Liberia.