Global Handwashing Day: UNICEF targets 10m Nigerian children for awareness

The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) has announced that it will reach at least 10 million Nigerians through high profile handwashing demonstrations in schools and communities, mass rallies, road shows, airing of jingles on radio and television, and dissemination of handwashing messages on U-Report, Facebook and Twitter.

A statement on Thursday, signed by Doune Porter, UNICEF Chief of Communication, said that it is organizing the programme in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, the National Task Group on Sanitation and other partners.

Every year Nigeria loses over 150,000 children from diarrhoea alone, largely caused by unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene practices. This is equivalent to a big passenger aircraft crashing every day.

Regular handwashing with soap after using toilets, after changing children’s nappies and before eating or handling food saves more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention, according to experts. It can reduce deaths from diarrhea by almost half and deaths from acute respiratory infections by one-quarter.

Handwashing with soap was also an important line of defense against the spread of Ebola in Nigeria.

However, statistics from the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF ) carried out in six states, found that an average of 82 per cent of people washed their hands before eating, while only 53 per cent of people washed their hands with soap after defecation. Alarmingly, only about 14 per cent of people wash their hands with soap after cleaning a child’s faeces.

Handwashing with soap is dangerously low in many countries, UNICEF reports, despite its proven benefits to child health.

Former Minister of Water Resources, Sarah Ochekpe, washing hands with pupils of
Powa International Childrens School, Abuja
The eighth Global Handwashing Day comes less than a month after the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, including hygiene for the first time in the global agenda. One of the SDG targets is to achieve ‘access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene’ by 2030.

UNICEF says improvements in hygiene must supplement access to water and sanitation, or children will continue to fall victim to easily preventable diseases like diarrhoea.

“Along with drinking water and access to toilets, hygiene – particularly handwashing with soap – is the essential third leg of the stool holding up the Goal on water and sanitation,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, global head of UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene programmes. “From birth – when unwashed hands of birth attendants can transmit dangerous pathogens – right through babyhood, school and beyond, handwashing is crucial for a child’s health. It is one of the cheapest, simplest, most effective health interventions we have.”

Regrettably, studies have shown that the Sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the highest child mortality rates globally also has particularly low levels of handwashing. The latest report from UNICEF and WHO showed that in 38 countries in the region with available data, levels are at best 50 per cent.

Even health care facilities often lack places for handwashing. Some 42 per cent of them in WHO’s Africa Region have no water source available within 500 meters.

Meanwhile, according to the UN’s latest estimates, over 800 of the approximately 1,400 child deaths from diarrhoea each day can be attributed to inadequate water, sanitation or hygiene. Infants in the first month of life are particularly vulnerable to diseases transmitted by unwashed hands.

A number of activities across the world will mark Global Handwashing Day, with the aim of teaching the importance of handwashing with soap especially to children.

For instance, a national drawing competition on handwashing in schools will reach 300,000 students in 1,500 schools; and messages will reach 3,000,000 people in 5,500 villages in Democratic Republic of the Congo.

A soccer match (Clean Hands vs. Dirty Hands) is planned, as well as a parade, community radio spots, songs, poems, a drawing competition and handwashing demonstrations in public places in Haiti.

The Government of Sri Lanka is hosting a week-long learning exchange among schools to establish best practice for programmes across Asia and the Pacific. UNICEF Ambassador for South Asia, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, will be involved in promoting the importance of handwashing.

Global Handwashing Day is celebrated on October 15. The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap initiated Global Handwashing Day in 2008, and it is endorsed by governments, international institutions, civil society organisations, NGOs, private companies and individuals around the world.

This story was published in Newswatch Times on October 15, 2015.


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