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PRESS RELEASE: Handwashing practices significantly changed in light of COVID-19 outbreak

DUBAI, 19 March 2020 - A shorty study conducted days before World Water Day, taking place worldwide on 22 March, reveals that handwashing behavior has significantly changed in light of the Corona virus outbreak. People have increased the number of times they wash their hands per day by 30% compared to one month ago. The study was conducted by Project Maji, a Dubai based social enterprise working at the forefront of the water crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The spread of the disease has shone light on basic hand hygiene being the most effective deterrent to infectious disease. This quick study was developed to not only raise awareness about the unsung heroes of the battle against COVID-19, namely water, taps and a bar of soap. It also highlights what happens if you do not have water for this simple task. This is the reality of 50% of households in Sub Saharan Africa who do not have access to water for handwashing, let alone soap. Now that the virus has hit the African continent, its spread in the region is being described as a ‘ticking time bomb’. With weak healthcare infrastructures, countries such as Kenya and Ghana are at an imminent risk of being overpowered by the disease.

On a lighter note, we did slot in the question about how many people have actually hummed the Happy birthday song twice to time the duration of their handwashing. A surprising 15% have followed this advice of the CDC that has also been quoted by world leaders such as Boris Johnson in press briefings.

Key findings:

  • Average handwashing time went up from 12.6 to 17.3 seconds, still not meeting the recommended 20 seconds 

  • The number of times people washed their hands (weighted average) is now 9.4 times, compared to 6.5% one month ago

  • 'Half of the of the respondents (49%) underestimated that strong handwashing techniques can reduce 80% of the common infections such as cough or flu.

There is very low awareness about the lack of access to handwashing facilities in underdeveloped countries:

Research from The Lancet has shown that Ghana and Kenya are two of the worst countries in the region in terms of preparedness to handle a public health emergency. Inevitably, they are also the most vulnerable in the face of the pandemic, now reaching Africa. Immediate and sustainable access to safe water is the most effective solution to curb the spread of Coronavirus in Africa.

Project Maji’s country manager John Otieno, explains the current situation in Kenya:

“People are not expecting economic stimulus packages like certain developed countries are announcing. They simply demand that the government will be distributing extra water and soap. If you live on 5 liters of water a day, you do not think of ‘wasting’ water to wash your hands. You will use it to drink and to cook your food.”

About the study The study was conducted among Project Maji stakeholders, of which 15% are working in the WASH (Water, Hygiene & Sanitation) or development sector. Approximately 44% of the respondents reside in the UAE and the remaining 66% come from 27 different countries and 4 continents. A total number of 175 respondents completed the 10-question survey submitted through Survey Monkey and it is by no means meant to be scientific research. However, the quantity surveyed and their geographic spread is indicative of a global trend.

More facts:

About Project Maji Recipients of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Water Award 2019, Project Maji ( is a not-for-profit Social Enterprise, working to bring sustainable access to safe water in rural communities across sub-Saharan Africa. Till date, the Project Maji solution has transformed the lives of more than 60,000 people across Ghana and Kenya through sustainable delivery of safe water to villages. We are working with the mission to reach 1 million people in rural communities with sustainable access to safe water by 2025



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