From health systems to handwashing stations: WASH efforts in the DRC

Saidai Kikuku washes her hands using a handwashing station provided by Corus International at an IDP camp in Goma, DRC.

From health systems to handwashing stations: WASH efforts in the DRC

Three billion people lack basic handwashing facilities. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where water-borne diarrheal diseases cause an estimated 17 percent of all child deaths, the simple act of washing hands can be lifesaving. Yet, it is estimated that only 29 percent of DRC’s population has access to improved sanitation facilities like latrines and handwashing stations.

These types of facilities are directly correlated with major decreases in diarrheal disease. That’s why Corus organization IMA World Health has been working for decades to improve sanitation in almost every province in the DRC. Since 2000, IMA World Health has conducted various WASH interventions through health systems strengthening projects. For example, the Access to Primary Health Care Project, known locally as ASSP, increased access and use of potable water and hygienic sanitation by constructing water infrastructure such as community rainwater collection cisterns at health centers, new protected water points and wells with solar water pumps. The project also distributed toilet tiles for latrine construction to improve access to sanitary elimination. Guidance on how to construct home handwashing stations from upcycled local materials, such as discarded water bottles, was also an important part of its WASH program. In total, 1,829 WASH infrastructure projects were completed through ASSP.

Corus advances WASH in the DRC

Community members in Kananga, DRC celebrate safe drinking water at their local water ATM. Water ATMs are automated units that dispense safe drinking water to communities for a small fee. This fee is then used towards maintaining water infrastructure.

Extensive work was also done to promote healthy behaviors such as handwashing with soap through ASSP’s ambassador program, a behavior change communication initiative that facilitated more than 2,000 movie nights in five provinces. During these movie nights, local community health workers showed, among other things, engaging education videos that taught community members the importance of washing hands after using the restroom and before cooking. 

The Essential Services for Maternal and Child Health (SEMI) Project, funded by UK aid from the UK government, has continued this social and behavior change work through its entertainment education program, which is currently in the process of filming its first of 32 episodes for a drama series that will focus on promoting healthy behaviors such as handwashing.

WASH in Humanitarian Assistance

The Corus family has also championed WASH as an integral part of our humanitarian response in the DRC. Renewed clashes in the DRC have forced hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes, worsening the already dire humanitarian crisis in North Kivu province. WASH needs are urgent across internally displaced person (IDP) sites, especially after a cholera outbreak was declared in December 2022 in the Nyiragongo health zone.

In response to critical WASH needs and to support cholera response efforts in displacement areas, Corus partners with fellow humanitarian actors to provide critical hygiene and sanitation inputs such as hand washing stations, latrines, showers and hygiene kits. Collaborating with WASH humanitarian clusters and health zone officials, we also promote awareness among IDPs and host communities on water management, sanitation practices and the prevention of the spread of cholera. Since February 2023, we have improved WASH for more than 50,000 IDPs, including 2,558 people living with disabilities. By increasing access to WASH for IDP and host community households in the Nyiragongo health zone, we are committed to reducing mortality and morbidity rates from waterborne diseases.

Corus advances WASH in the DRC

Corus staff member Jean Claude Nzay speaks with Hadidja Musa and her husband about WASH at an IDP camp in Goma, DRC.

Looking forward

As the Corus International family of organizations continues to engage with the government, the private sector, and health and community leaders, we seek to accelerate change to bring equitable WASH access across the DRC. Corus brings together the expertise of IMA World Health and Lutheran World Relief to integrate WASH interventions into livelihoods projects in addition to our broader health systems strengthening initiatives. In the DRC, we are steadfast in our commitment to continue advancing multi-sectoral WASH solutions for lasting impact.