Exploring the Handwashing Research of Dr. Reshmaan Hussam

Photo credit: FHI 360

This Global Handwashing Day explore the handwashing research of Dr. Reshmaan Hussam, an economist and assistant professor at Harvard Business School, on Global Waters Radio. Dr. Hussam chats with Senior Water, Sanitation and Hygiene and Social Behavior Change Advisor Nga Nguyen from USAID’s Office of Maternal and Child Health and Nutrition about her team’s fieldwork in West Bengal, India.

Dr. Hussam and her team were interested in finding ways to increase and sustain handwashing behavior in West Bengal communities. To do this, they placed soap dispensers in nearly 3,000 households. The dispensers contained an internal monitoring device that recorded how many times the household used them throughout the day. Some observation groups did not receive incentives to use the dispenser and knew they were being monitored, while others received incentives to use the dispenser and were unaware that the dispensers had internal monitoring devices.

The study yielded key findings on how introducing and incentivizing the use of soap dispensers indeed increased handwashing rates, however, Dr. Hussam and her team also found that solely letting participants know they were being monitored increased handwashing rates as well. These increased handwashing rates persisted even after the interventions, incentives, and monitoring stopped.

The team’s findings have important health implications, since participants’ overall health improved by introducing handwashing behavior interventions. Households that received the soap dispenser saw significant reductions in loose stool and acute respiratory infection in their children as well as increases in child height and weight for age.

The two recently explored Dr. Hussam’s fieldwork in-depth in a USAID webinar. To watch Nga Nguyen and Dr. Reshmaan Hussam’s webinar, click here. This podcast delves deeper as Dr. Hussam discusses her motivations behind the project and answers questions webinar participants had in regards to habit formation for handwashing behaviors.

Click here to listen to the full podcast.