The HappyTap is an invention developed by WaterSHED to address prevalent sanitation issues in Vietnam, specifically hand washing behavior. Sanitation related issues have been estimated to cost Vietnam 262 million dollars per year from hospital bills and productivity losses from absenteeism. Poor sanitation services and uninformed habits have contributed to a rise in diseases as urbanization packs people into cities already struggling to invest in adequate infrastructure. In rural zones of the country, “only 7% … inhabitants on average habitually wash their hands.” This situation has facilitated the spread of intestinal diseases whose symptoms can lead to further conditions such as dehydration and malnutrition. It is in this context that WaterSHED decided to developed a marketable product that would address the nation’s sanitation issues at the root. Ostensibly, the HappyTap is a portable hand washing station aesthetically designed to facilitate just that.
This innovation seeks to fill a particularly large gap in dedicated washing stations found in rural Vietnam. Two separate studies, one by the World Bank and another by WaterSHED, found that the main obstacle consistent hand washing was not behavioral change but access to “purpose-built, affordable, and aspirational hand washing hardware.” Some NGOs have started to address this gap with buckets retrofitted with spouts and tippy-taps, but many of those tools are either flimsy or multi-purpose devices likely to led to decreased incidences of hand washing contrary to a single purpose device. The youthful aesthetic is a conscious effort to appeal to children. Get them while they’re young, some say. The design and materials used to make the product were chosen to ensure that rural families could afford the device and spur wide spread adoption.
There are a few issues surrounding the HappyTap that may challenge its success. That it is a market product expected to be profitable may hinder its popularity. Poor households may not see the benefits of such an investment. A dedicated marketing and consumer awareness campaign may sway some consumers, but those living on a shoestring may necessitate substantially subsidized prices to even consider a purchase. While I haven’t had the opportunity to handle the HappyTap, its simple plastic design makes me question the product’s longevity, especially considering the heavy usage its expected to undergo. While the HappyTap is marketed as a fixed hand washing station, it looks to be lightweight, raising the chances of damage from heavy use or theft.
The HappyTap is an interesting product seeking to fill an important health gap but despite the developer’s market research and optimism, achieving widespread consumer adoption is going to be a challenge.