About the SWASH+ project

Updated - Thursday 02 August 2012

The SWASH+ Project arose from a need to find answers to persistent questions. Though other researchers and implementers had grappled with uncertainties like, “What impact do school WASH interventions make on pupil absence?” “Do school WASH efforts influence households?” there was a surprising dearth of rigorous research to provide answers to these and other questions.

Through the generous funding of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Global Water Challenge, the project has been operational since 2006 as a consortium which has variously comprised CARE, Emory University’s Center for Global Safe Water, the Government of Kenya, Kenya Water for Health Organisation, Water.org, and SANA. It has conducted randomized controlled trials and numerous sub-studies in Nyanza Province, Kenya. This quest for evidence was driven not purely for academic or intellectual reasons but as a means of finding the best ways to reach successful nationwide implementation of school WASH. For this reason, the Government of Kenya has been recognized as both a contributor of prime importance and the ultimate target audience for the lessons and recommendations from the SWASH+ project. From Day 1, the project was designed with a strong advocacy-for-policy-change component that has featured prominently in the later years of project implementation.

What We Learned

SWASH+ research revealed that school WASH is very important. For example:

  • Hygiene and water treatment can result in a 58% reduction in girls’ absence or an average reduction of six days per year per girl
  • A comprehensive school WASH intervention can reduce the risk of diarrheal disease by 66%
  • Even a single round of deworming can reduce re-infection of soil-transmitted helminths
  • Pupils in schools with cleaner latrines were half as likely to be absent than pupils in schools with dirtier latrines.

In some ways the research findings defied common assumptions about school WASH or turned up some unexpected surprises:

  • The provision of new latrines led to a significant increase of the likelihood of E. coli presence on hands among girls and a moderate increase among boys.
  • The influence of school WASH on household behaviors (using water treatment as an indicator) was significant but more modest than anticipated.

And in some areas the findings were disappointing, yet instructive:

  • Three years after implementing the Safe Water System (SWS) school WASH intervention, only 36% of schools continued to provide drinking water and only 9% had measurable levels of chlorine in their drinking water. 

For more lessons, see our Top 10 Research Findings