Simple hygiene practices are one of most effective measures to reduce transmission of COVID-19. However, hygiene habits and policies vary around the world greatly, depending on available resources.
Implementing best practices in different settings, on a community and government level, is complicated, especially in the context of a fast-evolving pandemic where time is limited and lives are at risk. It can be challenging for governments and organisations to access best available evidence, or share lessons learned.
These issues were the catalyst for the ‘COVID-19 Hygiene Hub‘ – a new free online platform partnership, hosted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). It connects a network of experts from around the world to provide rapid technical support and advice to develop and execute effective hygiene strategies against the novel coronavirus in homes, schools and healthcare facilities.
Aiming to help actors in low- and middle-income countries, the hub aids timely design of evidence-based interventions, or adaptation of existing ones.
The hub brings together governments, international agencies, NGOs and leading public health experts from across the world to share information and expertise to combat COVID-19.
The COVID-19 Hygiene Hub is a collaboration between LSHTM and leading international agencies, such as the World Health Organization, Unicef and the World Bank, and diverse academic and operational partners across the world, including the Centre for Affordable Water & Sanitation Technology (CAWST).
Users across the world can use the hub to talk to technical advisors or gather information in real-time to create a cohesive, effective response to the outbreak.
It draws on scientific, operational and creative expertise from a network of organisations, and continues to be responsive and adaptive to the changing nature of the pandemic.
The project is funded by the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The funding from DFID is part of a new global programme with Unilever to urgently tackle the spread of coronavirus. The programme will reach up to a billion people worldwide, raising awareness and changing behaviour.
There was a soft launch of the platform online three weeks ago, and already it has 67 users from 37 countries.
So how does it work?
The COVID-19 Hygiene Hub connects the low- and middle-income country actors with technical advice and resources online. Visitors to the website can find three options: Resources, Get technical advice, and Connect with others.
Clicking ‘Resources’ pulls up a wealth of up-to-date information and multi-media content which synthesise the current evidence, direct users to up-to-date guidelines and best practices, and provide practical recommendations.
If users still have unanswered questions, or want contextualised advice, they can interact with a technical advisor in real-time who is be able to direct users to the appropriate resources or connect them with a larger network of technical advisors to answer their specific questions.
Collaboration during COVID-19 is crucial. The ‘Connect with others’ option allows organisations to share information on what works and what doesn’t, strengthening the platform’s expertise and resources.
An interactive map at the bottom of the homepage shows these different approaches and projects around the world. So far, more than 126 projects have already been shared from 59 countries.
As this platform is being used worldwide, it is being translated into Spanish, French and Arabic.
Dr Robert Dreibelbis, Associate Professor at LSHTM, said:
“A coordinated global response to COVID-19 is crucial to stop its spread. One of the most critical elements in reducing COVID-19 transmission and ‘flattening the curve’ relies on changing behaviour. The COVID-19 Hygiene Hub will bring the technical, creative and operational resources together to support efforts globally.”
Sian White, a Research Fellow at LSHTM, is leading the Response Team. She said:
“Solving problems or receiving advice quickly during a crisis such as COVID-19 is crucial, but often difficult. Our team of experts will be on hand to respond in real-time, ensuring each question is directed to the right expert to provide the in-depth guidance needed. I look to sharing expertise on designing and evaluating water, sanitation and hygiene behaviour change programmes, that could save many lives around the world.”
Minister Wendy Morton, Department for International Development and Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said:
“I am proud the best of British expertise and the latest research from around the world will, through this hub, help developing countries better cope with the devastating impact of coronavirus.
“By strengthening fragile healthcare systems and protecting vulnerable communities we will together slow the spread of the virus globally, save lives and end this pandemic sooner.”
Olivier Mills, Senior Director, Global Services, CAWST, said:
“Acting on the message ‘wash your hands to combat COVID-19’ is complex. For example, clean water is scarce in many areas of the world. Applying our experience designing education and training tools for WASH practitioners in low- and middle-income countries, the COVID-19 Hygiene Hub converges science expertise and distils evidence-based hygiene programme learnings into free resources that people can act on quickly.”