Effect of an equipment-behavior change intervention on handwashing behavior among primary school children in Kenya: the Povu Poa school pilot study

BMC Public Health. 2019 May 28;19(1):647. doi: 10.1186/s12889-019-6902-2.


Background: Handwashing prevalence in schools in Kenya is low due to lack of access to water and soap and lack of drive for handwashing. Soapy water made from detergent powder is an inexpensive alternative to bar soap and disgust and social norms change can be powerful drivers of handwashing, but their effectiveness has not been assessed in school setting. In Kenyan public schools, we evaluated an equipment-behavior change intervention's effect on handwashing outcomes. We also monitored functionality of the Povu Poa prototypes to identify design improvements necessary for continued high usage in institutional settings.

Methods: The intervention included the "Povu Poa", a new type of handwashing station that dispensed foaming soap and rinse water, combined with school-wide behavior change promotion based on disgust and social norms. In this stepped-wedge cluster-randomized trial, we randomly selected 30 schools and divided them into 3 groups of 10. Following baseline data collection, we delivered the intervention sequentially (Group 1: 3-5 weeks after baseline; Group 2: 6-8 weeks; Group 3: 19-24 weeks). We observed outcomes [1] availability of handwashing materials at handwashing places, and; 2) observed handwashing behavior after toilet use among schoolchildren) at baseline and in three follow-up rounds. We compared the outcomes between schools that had received the intervention and schools that had not yet received the intervention.

Results: Water and soap/soapy water were available at 2% of school visits before intervention, and at 42% of school visits after intervention.. Before intervention, we observed handwashing with water after 11% of 461 toilet use events; no one was observed to wash hands with soap/soapy water. After intervention, we observed handwashing after 62% of 383 toilet use events (PR = 5.96, 95% CI = 3.02, 11.76) and handwashing with soap/soapy water after 26% of events (PR incalculable). Foaming soap dispenser caps were cracked in 31% of all observations, but were typically still functional.

Conclusions: Our combined equipment-behavior intervention increased availability of handwashing materials and improved the compliance with handwashing after using the toilet, but handwashing with soap was still rare. Equipment durability must be improved for deployment in schools at scale. American Economic Association's Registry for Randomized Controlled Trials; Trial Registry Number (TRN): AEARCTR-0000662; Date of Registry: April 14, 2015.

Keywords: Behavioral intervention; Compliance; Hand hygiene; Implementation research; Soapy water.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Disgust
  • Female
  • Hand Disinfection*
  • Humans
  • Kenya
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Program Evaluation
  • School Health Services*
  • Schools
  • Soaps / supply & distribution*
  • Social Norms
  • Students / psychology*
  • Students / statistics & numerical data
  • Water Supply*


  • Soaps