Each year on Global Handwashing Day, hundreds of millions of people around the world gather to celebrate the power of handwashing with soap to save lives. This day also provides an opportunity to consider the current status of the hygiene sector and catalyze further action. As we look toward the future of hygiene behavior change, we need to ensure that we are maximizing the broader topic of integrated development and fully considering its relationship to hygiene.
Integrated development, which can be defined in many different ways, is increasingly being discussed within the international development community, and FHI 360 plays an active role in convening this conversation. I recently had the opportunity, on behalf of the Global Public–Private Partnership for Handwashing (PPPHW), to attend an event hosted by FHI 360 titled Does 1+1=3? Proving the Integration Hypothesis, which brought together expert panelists from academia, government, donors and nongovernmental organizations.
I took away many key learnings from this event, but the one that stuck with me most is this: If we hope to move the needle on the most entrenched development challenges, we need to consider the benefits that could be offered by combining services or sectors.
Systemic, intentional and strategic integration has the potential to greatly improve handwashing behaviors and boost progress in many other areas of development. For example, handwashing can significantly reduce the risk of diarrhea and other infections, so why not integrate it into education programs, to help reduce absenteeism; into breastfeeding programs, to keep babies healthy during their most vulnerable months; into nutrition programs, to tackle environmental causes of intestinal disorders; and so on?
The PPPHW has taken a leading role in exploring the evidence and practice of integrating hygiene into other program areas, such as nutrition and early childhood development, through our involvement in the Clean, Fed & Nurtured Community of Practice. To truly tackle the world’s development challenges, we must all look toward innovative ways to increase synergy, reduce redundancies and work in collaboration.
In the spirit of integration, on Global Handwashing Day, we call upon our colleagues in all sectors of development to consider how hygiene could be incorporated into current or new programming. Only by working together in smarter ways will we be able to achieve our common goal of ending extreme poverty.