Supertowel - evidencebased innovation

Trine Angeline Sig
Posted November 23, 2018 from Denmark

My colleagues have written this wonderful blog post, that I would like to share with you.

A young Eritrean girl hides behind her mother’s skirt and watches intensely as we show her household how to use the Supertowel. We give her one to try and as she starts to clean her hands and face with it, a smile full of wonder shoots across her face.

She is living in Hitsats camp in Northern Ethiopia with her mother. We are here to gather data for research into the efficacy of an innovative, soapless alternative for handwashing. The little girl and her mother recently fled Eritrea – leaving their life and others in their family behind. They are now living in a shelter with three other adults and another child. This situation is not unique. In Hitsats camp, there are many of these ‘combined households’ – where individual refugees go from being complete strangers to housemates on the day they arrive.

Life in the camp is not easy. Most of the year there are extreme shortages of water and sometimes no supply at all. Resources of all kinds are scarce and valued – including soap. Despite this, there is a strong sense of community in the camp and people are generally content with their circumstances and hopeful for the future. Even though they have lost everything, residents of the camp have gained one thing that they lacked in Eritrea – their freedom.

The Saturday we met the young girl was our fourth day in Hitsats camp. We were well on the way with a field study to access user acceptability and feasibility of Supertowel as an alternative to soap for handwashing. Since arriving, we’d spent the mornings observing people’s hygiene behavior in their homes and then, in the afternoons, we gave Supertowels to selected households for them to try for 10 days. During those 10 days, we visited each of the households twice to understand how they used the Supertowels and whether they found them acceptable.

As an extra element of the field study, we held focus group discussions. Two of these were about user preferences. The participants were presented with different hand cleaning products like bar soaps, liquid soap, alcohol-based gel and the Supertowel; and then asked to rank the products according to statements such as most desirable versus least desirable, and expensive versus cheap. In another discussion, we assessed the kinds of behavior change communication that are needed to help people understand what Supertowel is and how it’s supposed to be used. We did this by asking participants to tell us how they interpreted messages in different pictograms related to the use of Supertowel.

(Photo credit: Torben H. Larsen, Real Relief)

The field study is the second phase of a larger project supported by the Humanitarian Innovation Fund, with funds from the UK government through UKAID. It follows a laboratory study where the comparative efficacy of the Supertowel was assessed against handwashing with water and soap. That first phase proved that Supertowel soaked in water is significantly better than soap and water at reducing bacteria from the pre-contaminated hands of volunteers when tested under the same standardized conditions and showed that it was worth testing in the field.

During the field study, we learned that soap is always going to be important in humanitarian crises but also found that something as valuable as water and soap will get prioritized for tasks like bathing and laundry, and almost never get used for handwashing. Our participants universally liked the Supertowel and felt it empowered them to better manage their hygiene in the face of water scarcity and limited economic resources. The Supertowel seemed to improve handwashing frequency and ease, allowing people to clean their hands at times when they might not otherwise bother, such as when outside the home or during food preparation.

When we visit the young girl’s household on the tenth day of the study, we arrived to find the Supertowel hanging around her neck in its waterproof bag. It was wet – a clear sign it had been recently used. Her mother jokes that her daughter has become a little obsessed with the Supertowel. She tells us that she would never independently go and wash her hands before a meal, but that she is now constantly using the Supertowel and reminding everyone else in the household to do the same.

When we started this research we were a little skeptical. The Supertowel was an exciting and novel concept but we knew it would require a major shift in behaviour and we honestly thought that many people would just not like it. Instead the field testing has been rewarding and surprising. We have been able to see first-hand how people can integrate a novel product into their daily routines. More importantly research like this allows new technologies to be improved and developed by crisis-affected populations so that it can better suit their needs.

Having returned from Ethiopia, we are now preparing the full results from these studies for peer-reviewed publication.

About the authors:

Torben Holm Larsen, Technical Director and co-founder of Real Relief, a private sector company behind products like Supertowel, SafepadTM and NetprotectTM. Torben has been working with developing and supplying innovative products for the humanitarian and development sector for almost 20 years. Starting with Long Lasting Insecticide treated Nets (LLIN) to fight malaria and since a.o. water filters, shelters, reusable sanitary pads and lately Superowel. He is a chemical engineer with almost 30 years of experience within everything from product development, manufacturing, sales and management.

 

 

Sian White is a Research Fellow in the department of Disease Control at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and is currently doing her PhD on hygiene behaviour in humanitarian crises. Sian has over a decade of experience working on projects to do with hygiene, behaviour change and public health programming in Australia, Asia, the Pacific, Africa and the Middle East. Sian’s research largely involves participatory qualitative methods to assess behaviour, or process and impact evaluations to assess interventions.

Comments 34

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Adanna
Nov 23, 2018
Nov 23, 2018

Dear Trine,

Thank you for sharing. This research sounds fascinating and looks like something I would gladly take part in :)

Love,
Adanna

Trine Angeline Sig
Apr 08
Apr 08

Dear Adanna,

Thanks for getting back to me. Do let me know if you see ways of cooperation.

Best regards,
Trine

Jill Langhus
Nov 23, 2018
Nov 23, 2018

Hi Trine,

Thanks for sharing your update on how the Supertowel is performing. It definitely sounds promising. Will these towels only be used for humanitarian purposes or will anyone be able to purchase them eventually?

Hope you're having a great day!

Trine Angeline Sig
Apr 10
Apr 10

Ohhh yes - this innovation should be made available for everybody. We have just started an online shop but we are not experts on this front - so all input and support is very much welcomed.

You find the shop here:
https://realreliefway.myshopify.com/

Jill Langhus
Apr 10
Apr 10

Oh, good. Thanks for sharing the Spotify, shop link. I have some suggestions. I will private message you with them.

Trine Angeline Sig
Apr 10
Apr 10

Thanks a lot - all input and feedback are warmly welcomed.

Jill Langhus
Apr 10
Apr 10

You're welcome:-) I just sent you the message.

Hope you have a great day, and rest of the week!

Lisbeth
Nov 23, 2018
Nov 23, 2018

Hi Trine,
Thanks for sharing this experience with us. Its true a lot happens in Africa, sometime what you seem small support turn to a life support.

Regards
Lisbeth

SanPatagonia
Nov 25, 2018
Nov 25, 2018

Hi Trine, thanks for sharing this experience... I found it really interesting, since I come from a city in Patagonia that deals a lot lately with water shortage. As a matter of fact, my hometown and others around it were declare under hydric emergency a year ago in summer. Today, another one in the next province was put under emergency too. Lack of infraestructure, higher temperatures, low levels of precipitations one year and extreme rains the following one, thousands affected by shortage or complete lack of water for days... all is part of the scenario I thought of when you wrote "...something as valuable as water and soap will get prioritized for tasks like bathing and laundry, and almost never get used for handwashing". Maybe your Supertowell could be considered for this kind of challenges, too.
I look forward to hearing more about your research!

Trine Angeline Sig
Apr 10
Apr 10

Difinitely - I see Supertowel as an innovative tool contributing to daily life in any household - no matter where you live in the world. The beauty about Supertowel is also that you can easily carry it around.

Tamarack Verrall
Nov 25, 2018
Nov 25, 2018

Hi Trine,

This sounds really interesting. Something that needs less water and cleans better would be helpful in so many places were water is scarce. Congrats to all involved.

Trine Angeline Sig
Apr 10
Apr 10

Thanks a lot Tamarack - and even in places where water is there, we all have to think of how we can preserve the resources and protect the enviroment. Supertowel is a green choice as you dont have to use chemicals when cleaning... nor do you have to throw away wet-wipes - you just go with your Supertowel.

Theresa Takafuma
Nov 26, 2018
Nov 26, 2018

Dear Trine
Thank you for sharing. The Supertowel can actually save lots of lives.

Kindest regards

Theresa

Trine Angeline Sig
Apr 10
Apr 10

Dear Theresa, that is true.

Did you know that diarrheal diseases account for more deaths than AIDS, Malaria and measles collectively. During this pitch 23 children under five have died from a diarrheal disease.
 
The most efficacious and cheapest preventive measure is handwashing with soap and water.
 
Water and soap are more often than not scarce resources.
 
SO the solution could be Supertowel :-)
SupertowelTM – an intelligent solution to soapless handwashing, using minimal amounts of water. Proven to be more effective in removing bacteria from hands than soap and water.

Tarke Edith
Nov 26, 2018
Nov 26, 2018

Hi sister
Thank you very much for the job you are doing over there keep up sis ,women are one

Trine Angeline Sig
Apr 10
Apr 10

Thanks Edith - keep in touch!

ARREY- ECHI
Nov 27, 2018
Nov 27, 2018

Dear Trine,
Thank you for sharing. It is a fascinating research with a needs based approach. The reaction of the young girl made me smile. Laudable effort from you and team.
Hugs,
Arrey

Trine Angeline Sig
Apr 10
Apr 10

Thanks a lot Arrey - keep in touch.

Jacqueline Namutaawe
Nov 27, 2018
Nov 27, 2018

Hello Trine the supertowel innovation is captivating and exciting. Hope the rest of the products can be availed on the market they sound easy to use innovative options to better hygiene and better health.

Trine Angeline Sig
Apr 10
Apr 10

Dear Jacqueline, thanks for making this comment and you are so right. Supertowel is so simple to use - even by kids and disabled people.

The challenge is to reach the ones in need... good suggestions are always welcome.

Emily Miki
Dec 01, 2018
Dec 01, 2018

Hi Trine,

Amazing concept. Would love to have more updates on the progress of the research.

Emily

Trine Angeline Sig
Apr 08
Apr 08

Dear Emily,

Please find a link to the recently published article related to the innovation; Supertowel.

https://www.ajtmh.org/content/journals/10.4269/ajtmh.18-0860

Best regards,
Trine Sig

Jensine Larsen
Dec 13, 2018
Dec 13, 2018

What a great concept and happy to hear that it is taking off!

Trine Angeline Sig
Apr 10
Apr 10

Dear Jensine,

Thanks a lot. Do you think there is market for such a product in your country?

Best regards,
Trine

SIMON MUREU
Dec 20, 2018
Dec 20, 2018

I liked what you are doing and is not in pain

Trine Angeline Sig
Apr 10
Apr 10

Hi Simon,

the product has also been launched in your country and will be there next month ;-)

Best regards,
Trine

Urmila Chanam
Jan 13
Jan 13

Dear Trine,
Amazed at the research on hygiene behavior and openness of people in crisis situations to new products one that would require a shift in what they have been accustomed to. Thank you for your work and feeding the input from field to further development of product and healthcare commodities. Any community development efforts requires sound research foundation, a value for two way communication to occur and humanity to succeed and I can see you and your colleagues have done so well. Wishing you all the best in your endeavors.

Love from India,
Urmila Chanam,
urmila.chanam@gmail.com

Trine Angeline Sig
Apr 10
Apr 10

Dear Urmila,

Thanks for your valuable comments. I agree!
The product is presently produced in India, so I was thinking that we might be able to find ways of cooperation.
I have send you an email with more info.
Best regards,
Trine

Jane Frances Mufua
Jan 30
Jan 30

Dear Trine,

Your research sounds interesting. Would like to hear more about it and how it could be use in other similar communities

Trine Angeline Sig
Apr 10
Apr 10

Dear Jane,

may I send you more info via email?
You can also find more info. and research on www.realreliefway.com

Thanks again for staying in touch.
Trine

Colleen Abdoulah
Apr 08
Apr 08

What an interesting project for you to be involved in and I so appreciate you sharing it with us. Water and the areas experiencing water shortages is only predicted to get worse across our globe. Finding solutions like this towel is such valuable work. I hope it takes off and may more will have access to it. I also appreciated how you shared the perspectives of the people living in these camps - not complaining but hopeful. That was powerful. They are quite the example of living with grace. I hope your work continues successfully.

Trine Angeline Sig
Apr 08
Apr 08

Dear All, thanks for all your encouraging comments and for following our work in bringing innovations to the people in need of better and more sustainable solutions.

Please all find a link to the scientific paper, that has now been published.
https://www.ajtmh.org/content/journals/10.4269/ajtmh.18-0860

Nana Amponsah
Apr 28
Apr 28

Thanks for sharing. Very interesting.

Trine Angeline Sig
Apr 29
Apr 29

Welcome Nana - do let me know if you see ways of cooperation :-)