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Global hygiene campaign reaches 1 billion vulnerable people

The Hygiene & Behaviour Change Coalition (HBCC) has now reached 1 billion people, supplying hygiene products, infrastructure and education to refugees and other marginalised groups globally.

The coalition, launched by UK aid and Unilever in March 2020, has become the world’s largest hygiene campaign aimed at tackling the spread of Covid-19. Through their work with NGOs and UN partners, HBCC programmes have trained 140,000 staff to deliver hygiene skills, installed over 500,000 handwashing stations, run comprehensive information campaigns and delivered 75 million hygiene products.

Experts have celebrated the milestone, with Robert Dreibelbis, a researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, saying that:

“Handwashing and hygiene are among the most effective ways to help prevent the spread of many diseases. The COVID-19 crisis has shown the important role that hygiene plays in health. Our hope is that this recognition of the vital role of hygiene continues at scale as a key part of COVID-19 recovery.”

In a statement, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Minister, Wendy Morton MP, reaffirmed UK commitments to global vaccination efforts, adding that:

“This global hand washing campaign has saved lives and protected some of the most vulnerable communities around the world against Covid-19 and other diseases.”

The HBCC works directly with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to establish specialist programmes and effectively distribute hygiene products to refugee communities.

With limited access to water, sanitary products and healthcare combined with overcrowded living conditions, forcibly displaced persons are at particular risk as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Highly unequal global vaccine distribution has been highlighted as a significant contributor to greater suffering by refugee diasporas. Refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants have largely been overlooked by vaccination efforts, with countries prioritising the inoculation of their nationals.

Paul Spiegel, director of the Center for Humanitarian Health at Johns Hopkins University, said that there will be:

“a token amount of refugees and undocumented migrants given access to the vaccine, but it’s going to take time, and they’re going to be left further behind until most nationals have had access”

Additionally, restricted access to asylum has undoubtedly exacerbated the adverse effects of the pandemic on refugees. Border closures, stagnating economies and increasing xenophobia have seen the number of admissions. The imposition of almost 105,000 movement restrictions since the start of the pandemic has left refugees stranded in unsanitary and overcrowded camps. Heaven Crawley, a professor of international migration at Coventry University, said that:

“It’s the poverty and inequality that kills people, not the virus.”

Valerie Peay, Director of the International Observatory of Human Rights, said that,

“Covid doesn’t distinguish between borders, wealth or walls. A simple bar of soap can be the difference between life and death for everyone. The Hygiene & Behaviour Change Coalition gives the chance for the most need in the world to fight Covid now but it’s up to all of us to make sure that the basics of soap and water will keep Covid at bay for us all.”

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