PROMOTING HEALTH AND STAYING HEALTHY
Once again, we are celebrating GLOBAL HAND WASHING DAY launched in 2008, this annual event is one of the ways public and private partners, and other stakeholders seek to raise awareness to this very fundamental and highly significant contributor to our overall health and wellbeing. Global hand washing is therefore celebrated on the 15th of October, every year, to remind everyone, particularly, our children of the importance of regular hand washing using soap. It is an annual event, backed by the Global Public - Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap with several founding members.
This year, the theme is: “CHOOSE HANDWASHING, CHOOSE HEALTH.” This theme emphasizes that:
Hand washing is a choice that everyone can make multiple times a day.
When people choose to wash their hands with soap especially after using the rest room ( Toilets) and before touching food, they are choosing to create a healthier environment, not only for themselves, but for those around them.
Good hygiene practices must become a habit, which requires choosing to perform them on a regular basis. People should choose hand washing not only on Global Handwashing Day, but every day. This positive and empowering message can be tailored to audiences, as appropriate.
Why separate an entire day every year to raise global awareness about hand washing?
This is because of the enormous health benefits accrued from adopting and sustaining proper handwashing behaviors. Handwashing with soap is the effective and inexpensive way to prevent diarrhea and acute respiratory infections (like coughs, colds, chest infections or pneumonia) which take the lives of millions of children in developing countries everywhere. Common diarrhea illnesses and acute respiratory infections, together, are responsible for the majority of childhood deaths.
As we approach the year, 2015, we should make every effort to reduce infant and childhood mortality rates in keeping with Millennium Development Goals 4. Adopting and sustaining proper handwashing behavior is certainly critical to meeting Millennium Development Goals 4; of reducing deaths among children under the age of 5 by two-thirds by 2015.
Therefore, Global Handwashing Day focuses on children because, not only do they suffer disproportionately from diarrhea and respiratory diseases and deaths, but research shows that children are those in our communities that are the most energetic, most daring, most adventurous and often the most enthusiastic too; can very well be powerful agents for changing behaviors like handwashing with soap in their communities.
When we understand that the vast majority of diarrhea diseases are due to germs ( bacteria, Viruses etc.) found in human faeces (excreta) and indeed some respiratory infections too; then we will agree that proper handwashing, in technique and timing, is the singular most effective preventive measure against these infections. After a visit to the restroom ( toilet, latrine), we ought to wash our hands properly with soap and dry with clean cloth to prevent these germs from entering the water we drink or food we eat. Some respiratory infections are also transmitted by hand.
So, proper handwashing technique and timing can block the route of transmission, Blocking this routes of transmission is critical to the prevention of diarrhea and respiratory diseases. While a case can be made by some people about prevention in other ways, for example, by boiling or disinfecting water in the home, preventing these germs from ever reaching household water is better and more cost-effective. In the same way, it is far better to prevent these germs from getting into the food we are preparing, rather than reheat it in order to kill the germs that might have multiplied while in storage.
The simple act of proper handwashing with soap can significantly cut the risk of diarrhea from 30% to 50% (Fewtrell et al., 2005) and that of respiratory tract infection from 21% to 45% (Curtis and Cairncross, 2003).
The world Health Organization (WHO), estimates that diarrheal infections claim the lives of 1.87million children under the age of five, every year, making diarrhea the second most common cause of death among children under five globally.
UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), estimates that diarrhea kills one child every 30 seconds. Scientific research shows that handwashing with soap prevents disease in more straight–forward and cost-effective way than any single vaccine.
Children living in households exposed to handwashing with soap promotion are far less likely to suffer from diarrheal illnesses compared to children where this doesn’t happen.
Beyond diarrheal and respiratory infections, handwashing with soap and water can also form a formidable ally in efforts to combat a host of other illnesses, such as worms, eye infections and skin infections.
Billions of people in developing and emerging countries still lack access to effective sanitation, hygiene and clean, safe drinking water.
Public and private stakeholders must scale up efforts in this regard through effective partnerships. There must be more emphasis on teaching demonstrations of good handwashing techniques in all our communities especially targeting mothers, grandmothers, nannies, carers, policy makers and policy implementers, and ofcourse children themselves, as a way to catalyse and accelerate progress in the final two years of the MDGs. Handwashing with soap should be taken up as a key element of the Post – 2015 development framework, which should also seek to secure universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene.
Government should seek to improve the provision of clean running water to more people, both in the rural and urban areas, in order to create the enabling environment for proper handwashing with soap to take place. The presence of a hand washing facility is critical in getting people to wash their hands.
Soap is usually found in most households and water, sufficient to wash hands, really is not the major problem. One major reason for low rates of handwashing with soap is that this is simply not a habit.
Therefore, here is a clarion call to all Ministries of Health, Education, Water Resource, and non-governmental organizations, the private sector and community based groups to use every opportunity to promote handwashing with soap.