Monday, October 15, 2012

Clean Hands Save Lives

Global Handwashing Day in Humjibre

In developing countries, the biggest killers of young children are respiratory infections and diarrheal disease. According to UNICEF, diarrhea and pneumonia account for almost 3.5 million child deaths each year. Regular handwashing with soap has been proven to be the most efficient and cost effective method of preventing these illnesses. The Lancet medical journal reports that "washing hands with soap can reduce the risk of diarrhoeal diseases by 42‒47% and interventions to promote handwashing might save a million lives” (The Lancet). Behaviours such as handwashing are expected to contribute significantly to meeting the Millennium Development Goal of reducing deaths among children under the age of five by two-thirds by 2015 (Global Handwashing Day Planner’s Guide).

There are many barriers to the practice of handwashing in Ghana, including a lack of knowledge, a lack of running water, long distances to water sources, and cultural practices such as washing with soap only after eating.

Because handwashing is especially important where people congregate (such as in schools), where food is prepared and shared, and in homes (WELL Fact Sheet), in 2009 GHEI began a comprehensive program targeting children and mothers and aimed at boosting the practice of handwashing with soap and creating a school environment that promotes and enables handwashing practice.

Since the program’s launch, GHEI has partnered with the Global PublicPrivate Partnership for Handwashingwith Soap (PPPHW) to implement a year-round school handwashing program in three villages. This program includes:

Between 2010 and 2011, there was a statistically significant drop of 42% in diarrhea prevalence in Humjibre
Between 2010 and 2011, there was a statistically significant drop of
42% in diarrhea prevalence in Humjibre

• Provision of polytanks in schools, a rainwater collection tank for access to water

• Monthly meetings with nominated School Handwashing Monitors

• Monitoring of school handwashing environments, with recognition for top schools

• Community-wide outreaches on Global Handwashing Day each October, which reach more than 1,500 students.

Our program focuses on the hygiene habits that have the greatest potential benefit: washing hands with soap at the most critical times, such as after defecation and before eating. The program targets those who have the greatest potential to benefit the most ― young children. While everyone is susceptible to communicable diseases, children face the greatest risk of becoming seriously ill and dying from the effects of diarrhea. We’ve also learned through our experiences that children serve as the most earnest and compelling spokespeople for handwashing with soap, as they are quick to learn and accept new ideas and usually bring the message home to their families, eventually spreading the concept throughout the entire community.

The first Global Handwashing Day took place on October 15, 2008, designated by the United Nations General Assembly as the start of the International Year of Sanitation. The handwashing with soap campaign began as a way to reduce mortality rates related to preventable diarrheal diseases and respiratory diseases. Today, October 15, 2012, GHEI joins over 200 million people, spanning more than 100 countries, in celebrating the 5th Global Handwashing Day.

To mark the occasion, GHEI ran several outreaches to local primary and junior high schools. In each school, students assembled by their polytank and ran through a series of activities. They began with the “Handwashing Song” that our Health Team had taught them, set to the familiar tune of "Frère Jacques .” Singing in unison with surprising enthusiasm, they sang first in Sefwi and then in English:

Soap and water, Soap and Water.

Wash your hands! Wash your hands!

Rub them both together, Rub them both together,

Clean them well! Clean them well!

Next the children were quizzed on the most important times for handwashing. Proud students ran to the front of the assembly to give their answers. Some gave incomplete answers, but after a few tries they had successfully identified the three most important times to wash your hands: before preparing food, before eating food, and after using the toilet.

The children then had the chance to put these principles into practice, and a few students were selected to demonstrate to their classmates how to give their hands a thorough scrub. Delighted to be chosen as demonstrators of this important hygiene behaviour, the children lathered vigorously and were careful to scrub and rinse every square inch of their hands, encouraged by the enthusiastic cheering of their classmates.

Following this, GHEI Community Health Workers presented the schools with bars of soap and certificates for each class, commending them for taking the handwashing with soap program seriously by putting it into practice each and every day. It is this regular practice that makes handwashing such an effective deterrent to infection: “Turning handwashing with soap before eating and after using the toilet into an ingrained habit could save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention, cutting deaths from diarrhea by almost half and deaths from acute respiratory infections by one-quarter.” (Global Handwashing Day Website).

Anglican Primary School was awarded a special certificate for Top Handwashing School, as they have engaged in the program wholeheartedly. In fact, in the days building up to Global Handwashing Day, Anglican students would spot me walking by and begin singing the “Handwashing Song,” while pantomiming the hand actions.

GHEI’s health team ran five of these school outreaches today, and will run another three tomorrow at schools in our neighbouring communities. Many thanks to all of our Community Health Workers, who endured sweltering heat to visit these schools, as well as The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap (PPPHW) for their ongoing support. And congratulations to all our young handwashers out there, who continue to prevent illness by keeping clean and spreading the message!


Global Handwashing Day Website.

The Lancet (2003) Volume 3, Issue 5: pp. 275‒28. Effect of washing hands with soap on diarrhoea risk in the community: a systematic review.

UNICEF. The State of the World’s Children 2008. Child Survival.

WELL Fact sheet. Health impact of handwashing with soap.

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