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WHO Q&A on Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and Ebola

Not a question, but for information, please see attached document from WHO: a good resource on basic Q&As on water, sanitation and hygiene in relation to Ebola.


2 Answers


Handwashing or disinfection with ash when commercial products are not available.

Thanks, but only 10-20% in e.g. Sierra Leone washed hand with soap according to a study from just before the outbreak, and e.g. at schools and funerals it is hard to provide soap. In DRC and Nigeria handwashing with ash was officially recommended if soap was not available also in the successful campaigns against ebola. WHO and UNICEF has generally recommended use of handwashing with soap or ash, not yet mentioned ash in international ebola guidelines. One WHO ebola expert requested more information from me, and I wrote the attached 6 pp referenced reply. Ebola virus has lipids in its membrane, the pH in usual ash handwashing experiment is about 10, and I found it to be 11 when African kitchen ash was suspend in 2.5 times more water. Ash is as effective as soap in removing e.g. bacteria in several experiments, and can kill bacteria and virus with sufficient time and concentration.
It e.g. killed 99% of bacteria from hands in one minute.
The text contains info on more topics, e.g. that polyethylene gloves are not really virus proof unlike e.g. latex. Disinfectants often make gloves unsafe for virus. Still, they help and a thick double bag on the hand may help locals helping sick people if needed. Rehydration is essential discussed too. I sent more links on appropriate low-cost methods against to the drop box administrators and hope they will be included. I can assist with communication and more studies if needed.

Ash as a neglected low-cost alternative for soap for hand washing (and disinfectant) relevant for Ebola prevention -- and some more suggestions.docx


P.S. I have now returned from rural Kenya where I daily used a little fresh or rain-exposed wood ash for handwashing at least once a day for 5-6 weeks, without getting any damage to my skin. It could feel a bit softer sometimes. Some may be more sensitive to alkaline soap or ash. I was told it can pain if one have open scratches on the fingers but helps to heal them too. Less water was required to remove the ash than soap using typical water for the humid tropics with low lime content (soft water).
Access to soap was often a problem, even where it was least expected. Some used liquid soap in a reused bottle with holes in or a dish with Omo. A water black container with a tap, placed in the sun, can also be recommended.