A recent survey by the United Nation 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.
According to a statement, yesterday, by the UNICEF, on the occasion of the Global Hand-washing Day (GHD), “alarmingly, only about 14 per cent of people wash their hands with soap after cleaning a child’s faeces.
“This poses a serious public-health risk. Every year Nigeria loses over 150,000 children from diarrhoea alone, largely caused by unsafe water, sanitation & hygiene practices. This is equivalent to a big passenger aircraft crashing every day!”
Meanwhile, UNICEF noted that hand-washing with soap is dangerously low in many countries, UNICEF reports, despite its proven benefits to child health.
The eighth Global Hand-washing Day comes less than a month after the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 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.
According to UNICEF, improvements in hygiene must supplement access to water and sanitation, or children will continue to fall victim to easily preventable diseases like diarrhoea.
It has been shown that regular hand-washing 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. It can reduce deaths from diarrhea by almost half and deaths from acute respiratory infections by one-quarter.
According to UNICEF, handwashing with soap was also an important line of defense against the spread of Ebola in Nigeria.
To mark Global GHD in Nigeria, UNICEF, with the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, the National Task Group on Sanitation and other partners plans to reach at least 10 million Nigerians this year through high profile hand-washing 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.
Meanwhile, the Federal Ministry of Environment has urged everyone to wash their hands with soap and water, which is an easy, effective and affordable way to prevent diseases across the globe.
Assistant Director, Pollution Control and Environmental Health (PCEH), Olushola Margaret Akinyemi, at the awareness programme organized by the ministry, yesterday, said that the Global Hand-washing Day is an annual advocacy day dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding on the importance of hand washing.
According to her, “It is the initiative of the Global Public-Private Partnership for hand washing made up of different categories of men from diverse fields.”
She added that the first Global hand-washing day was first held in 2008, when over one hundred and twenty million children in the world washed their hands with soap in more than seventy countries.
Akinyemi further said that this year’s theme, “Raise a hand for hygiene” is a call for hygiene indicator in sustaining developmental goals. She said that governments must measure hygiene indicators to know where resources should be concentrated.
Meanwhile, Save the Children has said that proper hand washing culture, with soap and clean water could save about two million children who die as a result of the disease yearly across the globe.
Speaking in Lagos on Thursday during an awareness programme organised by the group to mark this year’s Global Hand-washing Day, the organisation’s Campaign & Communication Coordinator, Adeyoju Olukemi said that diarrhoea was preventable and could be treated if Nigerians could pay more attention to proper hand washing, particularly with soap and clean water since it was recognised as world’s most cost effective preventive health initiatives.
“Diarrhoea kills almost two million children every year, making it the second leading killer of children worldwide. A simple hygiene habit- washing hands with soap could halve this figure.
“Hand washing with soap is one of the world’s most cost-effective preventive health interventions and has been proven to reduce the risk of not only diarrhoea, but also some of its more severe manifestations, such as cholera and dysentery, by 48 to 59 per cent,” the group said.
According to her the group is using its Stop Diarrhoea Initiative to ensure that the death rate of children who die as a result of diarrhoea is drastically reduced in the next four years, particularly in Lagos.
Global head of UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene programmes, Sanjay Wijesekera, said: “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.
“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.”
According to UNICEF, Sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the highest child mortality rates globally, also has particularly low levels of hand-washing. The latest report from UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO) says 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 United Nation (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.