Teaching handwashing with soap for schoolchildren in a multi-ethnic population in northern rural Vietnam

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Background: In Vietnam, initiatives have been started aimed at increasing the practice of handwashing with soap (HWWS) among primary schoolchildren. However, compliance remains low. Objective: This study aims to investigate responses to a teacher-centred participatory HWWS intervention in a multi-ethnic population of primary schoolchildren in northern rural Vietnam. Design: This study was implemented in two phases: a formative research project over 5 months (July-November 2008) and an action research project with a school-based HWWS intervention study in two rural communes during 5 months (May, September-December 2010). Based upon knowledge from the formative research in 2008, schoolteachers from four selected schools in the study communes actively participated in designing and implementing a HWWS intervention. Qualitative data was collected during the intervention to evaluate the responses and reaction to the intervention of teachers, children and parents. This included semi-structured interviews with children (15), and their parents (15), focus group discussions (FGDs) with schoolchildren (32) and school staff (20) and observations during 15 HWWS involving children. Results: Observations and interview data from children demonstrated that children were visibly excited and pleased with HWWS sessions where teachers applied active teaching methods including rewards, games and HWWS demonstrations. All children, schoolteachers and parents also viewed the HWWS intervention as positive and feasible, irrespective of ethnicity, gender of schoolchildren and background of schoolteachers. However, some important barriers were indicated for sustaining and transferring the HWWS practice to the home setting including limited emphasis on hygiene in the standard curriculum of schools, low priority and lack of time given to practical teaching methods and lack of guidance and reminding HWWS on a regular basis at home, in particular by highland parents, who spend most of their time working away from home in the fields. Access to soap and water at the household level did not seem a barrier for the uptake of HWWS but continuous access to these might be a challenge at schools. Conclusions: This study demonstrated that it is feasible to engage teachers and implement active teaching methods for behaviour change of HWWS in a group of multi-ethnic primary schoolchildren without the need for major investments in water and hygiene infrastructures. However, in those areas there was limited transfer of practice from school promotion to home. Continuous access to soaps at schools needs to be invested
Original languageEnglish
Article number63
JournalGlobal Health Action
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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