Home > Soapbox Updates > Changing Hygiene Behaviour in Malawi

Soapboxer Dr Sandra Virgo has recently returned from her latest visit to Malawi, focusing on hygiene behaviours…

I recently went to Lilongwe in Malawi to attend a hygiene behaviour change workshop focused on the 16 rural health centres forming part of our Deliver Life collaboration with WaterAid. Running the workshop was Om Prasad Gautam, a behaviour change specialist from WaterAid UK. Attending were other WaterAid staff, Malawian partner organisations, district representatives and the Ministry of Health.

In a number of the health centres there is now improved infrastructure, thanks to Soapbox’s original needs assessment and WaterAid’s response. But the presence of infrastructure alone doesn’t always change behaviour.

Our week was divided into two. Firstly there was a two-day capacity-building workshop so that everyone could learn the principles of Behaviour-Centred Design, a process for moving from research findings on current hygiene behaviour to the design of programmes for improving it. I presented some needs assessment findings related to hygiene behaviour, and University of Malawi researchers presented further data on the current state of play.

The latter part of the week was about practising Behaviour-Centred Design by using the research findings to shape a creative brief for a programme with three aims: to motivate new behaviour from staff and service users; to positively disrupt the setting they are in; and to change social norms.

So for handwashing with soap, targeted by my group, some ideas we came up with were a staff competition for compliance; rearranging the items in the delivery area to improve workflow, creating more handwashing time; and organising spot-checks.

In the same way, we also tackled cleaning and correct use of facility latrines. Here there could be motiving dramas and role plays; visual reminders of good practice; and community-led scorecards.

With these activities brainstormed, we left the Ufulu Gardens Conference Centre on Friday confident that WaterAid Malawi; local partners; and artistic and communication professionals would be able to successfully complete the programme design. This is due to be unveiled at the end of February and implemented in the facilities thereafter. We look forward to hearing how it goes!

Read more about the project from WaterAid here.