Surprise Soap

Handwashing with soap is one of the most cost-effective ways of saving lives worldwide. It can reduce rates of diarrhea and pneumonia – the disease that kills more children than any other – by up to 21% and rates of diarrhea diseases like cholera by up to 23%.

Heavy diarrhea or intestinal parasite loads in early childhood have been linked to delays in development. However, proper handwashing before meals and after going to the toilet can lower exposure to germs. This can lessen the chances of illness and chronic inflammation leading to better nutrition intake, more energy available for growth and development, and better attendence at school. The study, led by the London School of Hygiëne & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), Save the Children and Field Ready looked to find a way to increase rates of handwashing in emergency settings. Researchers gave families in a displaced persons camp in Iraq a soap with a visble toy embedded in the centre. The more children used the soap, the quicker they reached the toy. Children in the camp were involved in choosing the toys that were used, before they were manufactured locally using 3D printers.

The findings show that play may be the key to increasing handwashing and saving lives in emergencies. It is the first time a motive-based handwashing approach has been tested with children in an emergency. Additional drivers for behavior change such as the introduction of an element of play, in particular looking outside of health messaging, should increase the uptake of handwashing for children.

Save the Children is now looking to further test the ‘Surprise Soaps’ intervention in different, more challenging humanitarian contexts and to assess the long term behavioral and health impacts. The impact our intervention hopes to achieve is the improvement of child health (morbidity and mortality) in humanitarian emergency settings, by reducing the level of water-related diseases. It will achieve this through increased practices of HWWS among children at household level and, if successful, by scaling up through Save the Children (SC) programming and dissemination in Somalia. We aim to identify successful products and delivery approaches that can be later implemented and evaluated at scale, to assess its effect on behaviour and health outcomes.


Location Somalia, Uganda
Solution stage Pilot stage
Business model Array
Organisations involved CARE, Save the Children
Link to website