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"The spreading of Ebola and a range of water and sanitation related diseases can be dramatically reduced by strengthening and promoting hygiene behaviours," says IRC's Africa Regional Programme Manager and Hygiene and Sanitation specialist Alana Potter. 

As the largest outbreak of the Ebola virus documented in history keeps spreading, sanitation and hygiene specialists try to respond in the most effective way and emphasize the importance of hygiene promotion. "It's tragic on so many levels. And sad that in crisis of this magnitude the linkages between WASH and health become most clear."

Alana Potter, IRC's Africa Regional Programme Manager and Hygiene and Sanitation specialist follows the developments of the spreading of Ebola closely. "Ebola has a massive impact on countries resources, safety, security and governance", she says.

Promoting hygiene and proper sanitation under these circumstances is incredibly vital

The World Health Organization reports that currently more than 10,000 people have contracted the Ebola virus, with 4,922 reported deaths. Most cases of Ebola virus disease are reported in West Africa - in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, and last week Mali confirmed its first case.

And the effect of hygiene promotion? "Hand washing with soap and running water is critical because Ebola is transmitted through body fluids, so any contact with an infected person's body fluids or anything those fluids have touched can transmit the disease," Potter says. "That's why hand washing, with soap, will help. The Ebola virus can be killed by soap, chlorine, alcohol-based hand rub, high heat, even UV light exposure." Other diseases also show the urgent need for hygiene promotion. Potter: "Diarrhoeal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under the age of five. Each year diarrhoea kills around 760.000 children under five years."

KnowledgePoint logo

Promoting hygiene and proper sanitation under these circumstances is incredibly vital. That's why a group of WASH organisations - UN Global WASH Cluster have started using 'KnowledgePoint', an online platform. KnowledgePoint is the result of a innovative and collaborative venture led by a consortium consisting of IRC, WaterAid, Practical Action, RedR UK, Engineer Aid and funded by the Humanitarian Innovation Fund. Professionals can ask questions about Ebola and get real time answers from Ebola Specialists, with the aim to provide guidance to those fighting the epidemic in the worst affected countries. "It's been an incredibly positive experience," says Timothy Kent, Project manager of KnowledgePoint. 

"People ask questions on KnowledgePoint to get information quickly, to find best practice, or to find people with personal experience of solving a problem," Kent says. "So we are not necessarily asking people to do anything very differently, but helping their own enquiries get answered more quickly and reach a wider audience of professionals. If we can continue with this, helping people and organisations to avoid duplicate learning, sharing information and sharing expertise, users will have more capacity and better information for the vital work that they already do."

KnowledgePoint is one of the examples of global responses to the Ebola outbreak. It enables WASH development and humanitarian specialists to share knowledge on specific problems related to water, sanitation and hygiene. Potter: "I think it is an excellent initiative, great to provide a forum for exchange on questions of concern between WASH and health sector experts. It's sad that in a time of crisis the linkages between WASH and health become most clear." According to her, there is a lot of knowledge that the WASH sector can share.

"Three key hygiene behaviours are (i) effective use of a safe latrine, (ii) hand washing with soap at critical moments, and (iii) safe water management. Everything we do on hygiene promotion in IRC is about strengthening these behaviours, whether it's measuring the efficacy of hygiene promotion programmes, costing them, or evaluating different approaches. That is what we aim to do: build knowledge about what gets people to adopt these three behaviours. If they adopt these three behaviours – the transmission of Ebola and of a range of water and sanitation related diseases - is dramatically reduced."