A user-centred handwashing kit for emergencies

Foyeke Tolani Emergencies, Innovation, WASH Impact Series, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)

Foyeke Tolani, Public Health Promotion Adviser and Project Coordinator, describes how a collaboration with a UK school sparked the process of developing Oxfam’s innovative new handwashing kit.

For over a decade, we had been exploring handwashing kit options to replace the Tippy Tap. The Tippy Tap requires lots of promotion for sustained use, and as a device it is not particularly durable. We wanted to create a step-change in handwashing, that would enable us to meet user’s needs, and reduce disease in emergency contexts.

By 2016, we felt we had exhausted our options – despite working with a range of consultants and practitioners. Then we were approached by Beech Grove Academy, UK, who wanted to work on innovation ideas. Interestingly, two female students selected the handwashing topic and surprised us all. They generated five designs based on the key attributes we had identified for a handwashing station. The Oxfam Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Team were so impressed with their A-Frame design that we put it forward for the Elrha Handwashing Challenge.

The innovation sprint, with input from experts, helped us to map out a development path for the product. We were also working on an interactive handwashing promotion approach that uses storytelling,  jointly developed with Unilever’s Lifebuoy Soap – Mum’s Magic Hands – which we were keen to test alongside the new kit.

At the inception meeting we met with a team of designers, manufacturers and public health and behaviour specialists. We discussed the ideal handwashing station for emergency use, based on feedback from potential users. Key attributes included:  water-conserving, easy to use, simple to maintain, proper drainage, adjustable height, space for soap, spacious, and attractive.

From here, we developed the first prototype of the Promotion and Practice Handwashing Kit (PPHWK). We took this to Nduta refugee camp in Tanzania for initial trials in 2017, where it was well received. We chose Nduta because we wanted to test in a stable camp setting first. Feedback led to the improved Prototype 2, which was trialled at scale for eight weeks.


Further feedback informed Prototype 3, which was tested in an acute emergency setting; Kyaka refugee camp, Uganda. Again, it proved to be user-friendly, and significantly increased handwashing with soap practice. The findings in Tanzania and Uganda also showed a significant increase when we used Mum’s Magic Hands compared with traditional handwashing promotion methods such as community meetings, posters, and leaflets.

The post-evaluation of Prototype 2 in Nduta camp showed that it was still functioning after 10 months, and the coloured footsteps embedded in the ground to guide people were still intact. However, the mirrors had been stolen– an issue which we addressed in the final prototype design. The man featured in the main image at the top of this blog told us:

“I find the kit very useful … the right solution. As you see I’m a disabled person, it is difficult to use a Tippy Tap. This kit is easy to use for all … [It] uses minimal water … I advise Oxfam to install [it for] other people facing physical challenges.”

We now have Prototype 4, which was improved with feedback from the trials. It looks quite different but it retains all of the desirable features tested in Tanzania and Uganda. Every element is robust and low-cost, and it is optimized for shipping. The kit can be assembled in under seven minutes, following simple instructions.


  • 24-litre water tank (with attached lid)
  • 4.5-litre internal liquid soap dispenser (with space for bar soap as an alternative option)
  • water collection basin (to restrict splashing), drainage pipe, 3 metal legs, 2 mirrors and 4 taps (2 for water and 2 for liquid soap)


  • Easy to use, height-adjustable, and accessible for all
  • Bright colours and mirrors to attract people to come and use
  • Water-conserving, push up taps for handwashing only
  • Every element of the design is low cost and durable
  • Lightweight, stackable and easy to transport.

So, did we achieve what we set out to do? Yes, we did. Were there any challenges? Yes, in particular delays in manufacturing plastic components, and the unstable contexts where the trials were conducted.  It wasn’t easy to get the height right, make the design compact and theft-proof, but eventually we got there.

The project was supported by Elrha’s Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF), a grant-making facility that supports organisations and individuals to identify, nurture and share innovative and scalable solutions to the most pressing challenges facing effective humanitarian assistance. HIF is funded by aid from the UK Government.

It enabled field practitioners, private sector actors and designers to create a product that was tried and tested several times with potential users. Exhibiting at industry conferences allowed for feedback from WASH practitioners, donors and potential buyers, including: “It’s a very nice step forward” and “I can’t believe it’s so cheap”. Our next challenge is how to move it to scale.

Watch a video of the new handwashing kit in action

Foyeke Tolani