Is the Supertowel as effective as soap?add
Our laboratory studies have shown that the Supertowel is more effective at removing non-pathogenic E. coli from the hands of volunteers than soap and water. These results are based on the European Standard (EN 1499) for testing hand cleaning products and are true when hand cleaning with soap or the Supertowel is practiced for 60 seconds or 30 seconds4,7. However, when explaining the efficacy of the product to populations we recommend that you say that the Supertowel is as effective as hand washing with soap and should be considered as an alternative when soap and water are scarce. The Supertowel is not designed to be completely replacing soap and it is important that people understand that handwashing with soap remains one of the most effective ways to reduce disease transmission.
Can the Supertowel be used for water purification?add
The Supertowel was always designed to be a hand cleaning product. However, while testing the product in a refugee camp in Ethiopia8, some of our participants asked if it might also work to treat water. Following this we conducted a preliminary laboratory test where contaminated water was poured through the Supertowel either as is or folded to allow the water to pass through two layers of Supertowel fabric. The test showed a very effective bacteria reduction in water contaminated with E. coli, P. aeruginosa and V. cholerae9. In all cases the reduction was > 99,999%, only E. coli needed the Supertowel to be folded. Further testing would be needed prior to recommending its use for water filtration.
Is the Supertowel intuitive to use?add
At the moment, it is not always obvious when a person first encounters the Supertowel that it is a product for hand cleaning. This became clear in focus group discussions in Ethiopia when we asked participants who knew nothing about the product to guess what it was used for and how it was supposed to be used. We showed some simple pictograms to the participants (see Figure 5) after which they understood what the Supertowel was to be used for. We have been working with the Royal College of Art to adjust the design of the Supertowel and to develop guidance on its use which can be understood even with limited literacy.
How much does Supertowel cost?add
The nominal cost of the Supertowel is relatively easy to calculate. When procured in bulk (<20,000 pcs) and for the purposes of humanitarian use, the price of the Supertowel is 50 US$ cents. This does not include freight however, so depending on destination another 10 to 20 cents would be added before the Supertowel is on ground. The actual low procurement cost is however only a part of the cost savings that is offered by Supertowel. The savings on distribution cost is probably the bigger part. It is however almost impossible to estimate this cost on a general basis. The cost savings towards soap is best illustrated with an example:
The Sphere standards state that each person needs to access to 250 grams of soap for bathing per person per month and 200 grams of soap for laundry per person per month. They do not actually specific mention handwashing soap per person but just that soap should be provided at the handwashing station (one station per shared toilet or one per household). So, under a set of typical assumptions, in practice this would mean that the cost per household per month of providing soap for handwashing ranges between $2 and $9. In comparison the cost per Supertowel in the first month costs $2.50 per household.
Over a year of displacement and in camp of 1000 families (approx. 5000 people) this would mean handwashing soap costs would be $24,000 (based on cheapest estimate) and Supertowel costs would be $5000. This does not include distribution costs.
Health and hygiene:
Supertowel was originally presented as a proposal to the challenge #ReimagineSoap by the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF).
A subsequent project was funded by the HIF, where handwashing with the Supertowel was compared in the lab to water and soap. Following a successful outcome, a user acceptance field study was conducted under the same grant in a refugee camp in Ethiopia.
A production scale-up project, where the production method for Supertowel was developed, was also funded by the HIF. The project successfully established a supply chain that can provide Supertowel at the right quality, quantity and price.
Supertowel has furthermore received funding from USAID OFDA for extended laboratory studies, where handwashing with Supertowel is compared again to handwashing with soap and water, but under more realistic conditions, i.e shorter time, less water, contaminated water source and visibly dirty.
The Supertowel™ project is supported by Elhra's Humanitarian Innovation Fund programme, a grant making facility supporting organisations and individuals to identify, nuture and share innovative and scalable solutions to the most pressing challenges facing effective humanitarian assistance. The HIF is funded by aid from the UK Government. Visit www.elrha.org for more information about Elrha's work to improve humanitarian outcomes through research, innovation and partnership.
This research was made possible by the generous support of the American people thorugh the United States Agency for international development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of the authors of the paper and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States government.
Links to peer reviewed scientific papers: