Schools record 77% increase in handwashing facilities during COVID-19 pandemic

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Since the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, the number of handwashing tap-points in schools across the country has recorded an increase of 77%.

Latest records from the Ministry of Education (MoE) show that from 9,654 handwashing tap points before the on-set of the pandemic in early 2020, the number has today increased to 17,071 tap points,

This means that at the national level, from one tap point for every 17 students, the access has improved to one tap point for every nine students. At the dzongkhag level excluding the four thromdes, the tap to student ratio has more than doubled from one tap point for 19 students to one tap point for nine students. At the Thromde level as well, the ratio has doubled from one tap point for 26 students to one tap point for 13 students.

Among the regions, the schools of central region recorded the highest increase in the installation of handwashing tap points at 92%. From 1,823 tap points, the region today has 3,505 tap points improving the student to tap ratio from 19 to 11 per tap today. Bumthang, GelephuThrom, Trongsa, Tsirang, Dagana, Zhemgang, Sarpang and Wangduephodrang comprise the central region.

While impressive, the eastern region, in comparison, saw the least increase at 71%. From 3,239 tap points, the region today has 5,529 handwashing tap points  in its schools. The student to tap ratio improved from 14 to eight students per tap point. Samdrup Jongkhar Throm, Lhuentse, Mongar, Pemagatshel, Samdrup Jongkhar, Tashiyangtse and Trashigang comprise the eastern region.

The western region’s schools saw a 75% increase from 4,592 tap points to 8,037 today. From one tap for every 19 students, the ratio has today improved toone tap for every 10 students.Phuentsholing Throm, Thimphu Throm, Chhukha, Gasa, Paro, Punakha, Haa, Thimphu and Samtse comprise the western region.

These figures include all tap points including those in the toilets and barrel handwashing stations with multiple tap points. All tap points as informed by the district education officials are functional and have access to regular water supply.

This achievement in increased access to handwashing stations in schools is a result of the government and its partners’ efforts to improve access to handwashing facilities in school, according to the joint press release issued by the MoE, Ministry of Health, SNV and UNICEF Bhutan. Having proper handwashing facilities for students in schools is one of the conditions the government has set to reopen the schools. 

In monastic institutions, the pre-dominant handwashing facilities are tap points at 97% while the remaining 3%comprise of buckets, tanks, taps connected to syntax and wash basins, according to the Wash Baseline Survey In Monastic Schools And Nunneries in Bhutan, 2019.

The survey found that only a quarter of the monastic institutions have both soap and water at the hand-washing facilities compared to 715 with water only. In terms of the frequency for group hand-washing activities, at least half (53%) of the institutions conducted group hand-washing activities once a week for monks and nuns. There are 248 monastic institutions in the country today.

The Global Handwashing Day is observed every October 15 to raise awareness on the importance of handwashing with soap. This year’s Global Handwashing Day theme was ‘Hand Hygiene for All’ and aimed to catalyze the momentum from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has highlighted the critical role of hand hygiene to prevent disease transmission.

Calling on all to wash their hands with soap, the Central Monk Body’s Leytshog Lopen Sangay Dorji said since the mental wellbeing depends on a healthy body, taking good care of the body and maintaining hygiene is critical.

“Buddha, in his teaching had also emphasized on the importance of hygiene, as body is the most important part of our lives. As we observe the Global Handwashing day today, I urge all to wash your hands with soap not just to mark the day but to make it a daily practice,” the Leytshog Lopen said.

The theme, according to the media release, is a reminder of the immediate need for proper hand hygiene to respond and control the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the need to work toward lasting handwashing habits in the long-term.

Commending the increase in the number of handwashing facilities in schools across the country, Education Minister JB Rai said that this is a result of the education family rising up to the call to secure the safety of children.

“The numbers indicate the readiness of our schools to reopen safely and ensure access to handwashing facilities for all students,” the Minister said. “For people to be able to practice hand hygiene, they need hand hygiene facilities that are conveniently located and easy to use. Our schools are now well equipped with these facilities.”

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo commended the efforts of the education ministry and partners in improving handwashing facilities in schools across the country.

“The change we are seeing in terms of improved access to proper handwashing facilities in schools is one of our biggest achievements to date and a proud moment for all of us,” the Minister observed. “The COVID-19 pandemic provides a stark reminder that one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of a virus is also one of the simplest – handwashing with soap.”

The global hand hygiene for all initiative, SNV Bhutan Country Director Kencho Wangdi said, is designed around three stages of responding to the immediate pandemic, rebuilding infrastructure and services, and reimagining hand hygiene in a society.

“The achievement in handwashing facilities in schools is evident of the efforts of the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB) in responding, rebuilding and reimagining hand hygiene in the country,” he said. “SNV remains committed to support the efforts in ensuring hand hygiene for all.”

UNICEF Bhutan Representative Dr Will Parks said that the improvement in handwashing facilities in schools is significant and shows the RGoB’s priority in ensuring the safety of children across the country.

“This progress will help stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep children safe while providing them with an effective learning environment,” Dr Will Parks. “Handwashing with soap is a lifesaving measure and UNICEF commits to work closely with the RGoB on further improving access to inclusive WASH facilities in schools and public places to secure the safety of everyone.”

Staff Reporter from Thimphu

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