Created by the World Bank's Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) the Vietnam Handwashing Initiative aims to reduce disease and mortality through a behavioural change communication (BCC) programme.
This programmesees the promotion of hand washing with soap among caretakers of children under five and among primary school age children aged 6 - 10 years.
The promotion of handwashing is an extremely effective tool for the prevention of disease. The two biggest killers of children in the developing world today are diarrheal disease and respiratory tract infections.

The simple act of washing hands with soap can cut diarrheal disease and respiratory tract infections by a third. The World Bank has therefore stipulated that this makes handwashing a better option for disease prevention than any single vaccine.

The Vietnam Handwashing Initiative includes both: (i) a national mass media campaign geared toward children, and (ii) a school-based interpersonal communication activities campaign. It aims to ensure that semi-urban and rural schoolchildren will:

  • know that even clean-looking and clean-smelling hands can have germs
  • believe that handwashing with water alone is not enough - soap is needed;
  • believe that handwashing with soap is an important practice to demonstrate in front of friends and family
  • be motivated to wash their hands with soap before eating and after using the latrine
  • be motivated and feel excited about handwashing with soap and want to practice it.

The campaign development started with formative research conducted in July 2008 amongst children in six primary schools from three provinces to represent northern, central and southern regions of Vietnam; in each province, one peri-urban and one rural area were chosen.

This research found that a leading motivator for handwashing with soap is the desire to prevent others from getting sick (especially younger brothers and sisters).

This and other findings were incorporated into a behaviour change communication campaign (BCC) for children, launched in August 2009, using the theme "pride of the family".

Handwashing was from this, positioned as an easy, fun, and smart behaviour with a tagline of, "Wash your hands with soap for your own health and the health of others around you".

Rather than a top-down education approach, the campaign combined mass media and interpersonal communications activities.

A series of 10 cartoon strips was printed in the weekly national children's "Youth" magazine beginning in September 2009. In addition an animated cartoon, children's games in schools, a set of guidelines and an instructural DVD were made for training teachers how to play the games as an additional lesson on handwashing with soap.

Vietnam is one of the four countries within the WSP's Global Scaling-Up Handwashing Project which focuses on learning how to apply innovative promotional approaches to behavioural change to generate widespread and sustained improvements in handwashing with soap among women of reproductive age and primary school-aged children.

Over 10,000 students have been reached thus far through the school programme and an estimated 630,000 children have been reached via the mass media programme.

Find out more about the Vietnam Handwashing Initiative on the Communications Initiative Network - a network whichpromotes communication and media use for social and economic development.