Diarrhoeal diseases are a major contributor to morbidity and mortality in humanitarian crises. Handwashing with soap may reduce diarrhoea by up to 47%, however, the circumstances associated with displacement make it challenging for crisis-affected populations to be able to wash their hands with soap. The Supertowel is an alternative hand-cleaning product, proven to be as efficacious as handwashing with soap. The Supertowel is a micro-fibre towel with an anti-microbial treatment. When dipped in water it is capable of removing and killing pathogens from hands. This study aims to assess whether the Supertowel could be an acceptable and feasible product for crisis-affected populations.
The study took place in an Eritrean refugee camp located in Tigray state in Ethiopia. We used a mix of qualitative methods to understand use and acceptability, including baseline observations (n = 13), behaviour trials involving interviews at three time points (n = 19) and focus group discussions (n = 3). We thematically analysed data from interviews and discussions.
Participants indicated that the Supertowel was convenient, easy to use and saved them water and money. All households participating in the behaviour trials had at least one Supertowel in use at the end of the trials (follow-up visit two). In discussions participants reported that the Supertowel was more desirable than comparable hand cleaning products. In interviews, trial participants explained that the product enabled them to clean their hands at times when they might not normally bother. The research also identified some issues with the smell of the Supertowel and its intuitive use.
The Supertowel was found to be an acceptable and useful hand-cleaning product that could complement soap use in crisis contexts. This pilot study also identified areas of future research including the need to compare different distribution models for the Supertowel (distribution in hygiene kits compared to distribution with an accompanying communication package) and to evaluate its use at scale over a longer time period.
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Citation: White S, Petz JF, Desta K, Holm Larsen T (2019) Could the Supertowel be used as an alternative hand cleaning product for emergencies? An acceptability and feasibility study in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. PLoS ONE 14(5): e0216237. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0216237