Every year, around 1.3 million young children are dying globally from largely preventable diseases like diarrhea caused by poor sanitation, which could be greatly reduced by handwashing.
Speaking during celebrations to mark global handwashing day at Kaharati Primary School in Maragua Sub County, Murang’a, Secretary General of the Association of Public Health Officers Kenya (APHOK) Mr. Mohammed Duba, said that 85 percent of diseases are preventable by proper handwashing.
“Thoroughly cleaning hands with clean water and soap or an alcohol-based hand rub helps prevent a range of diseases like diarrhea and other hygiene-based diseases,” said Duba.
Global handwashing day, marked on October 15 every year, is geared towards increasing awareness and the importance of washing hands with clean water and soap as an effective and affordable way of preventing diseases and saving lives.
This year’s Global handwashing theme is ‘united for universal hand hygiene’
Duba said that this initiative has been created in relation to prevention and promotion of health standards since in the recent past, people did not know the importance of hand washing and many lives were lost.
“Globally, the burden of diarrheal infections among young children under five remains high” noted Duba, adding that continued handwashing is crucial to help reduce the rate of spread of these killer diseases.
He further said that the practice of washing hands is very critical and it should be part of the tradition of each child and person.
APHOK Secretary General observed that handwashing with soap before eating and preparing meals and after toilet use has been shown to reduce diarrheal infections.
Duba led the pupils and their teachers in demonstrations on how to properly wash hands with soap and clean water to re- enforce the importance of hand washing.
“School going children are at a risk of getting transmittable diseases as a result of the environment they are in and there is need to show them the proper way of washing their hands as a preventive measure to diseases like diarrhea” he divulged.
Duba observed that the covid-19 pandemic has built an appreciation of hand washing with clean running water and soap.
Proper handwashing, Duba said, according to the health indicators is critical in helping reduce the spread of Covid-19 and while at the same time helping to prevent diarrheal diseases.
“If we don’t continue to invest in handwashing, we risk continuing to see more young children dying unnecessarily every single year,” he added.
He further urged leaders of the government and local communities to ensure the culture of handwashing is promoted in school, healthcare facilities, work places, homes and in public areas.
Murang’a County Director of Health Dr. Winfred Kanyi speaking during the same event, said that most diseases are preventable through a simple act of handwashing.
“Prevention is better than cure,” said Kanyi, adding that, “As a county if we focus on prevention measures like practicing hand washing with clean water and soap, we will keep diseases like diarrhea at bay.”
Kanyi observed that many cases related to diarrheal infections like diarrhea in the county went down during the Covid 19 pandemic because people were washing their hands frequently.
“There were less queues in our health facilities of such cases during the pandemic because people were washing their hands with soap and water,” said Kanyi adding that the county health department sensitized the locals on the importance of handwashing
The Director said that cases of infectious disease could be greatly reduced by working with children and families to adopt the tradition of handwashing.
Moreover, she further said handwashing not only reduces the rate of infection in young children, but also keeps children in school since they will not fall sick and be forced to skip classes.
“Health programs in schools were introduced to help the schools struggling with proper sanitization to prevent cases of outbreaks of infectious diseases like diarrhea,” opined Kanyi.
She also advised the adults present to be role models as children tend to mimic what they do and see from their parents.
The Director further observed that lack of access to clean water in some parts of county possess a challenge in some of the households and schools hence hindering handwashing
“The county health department will continue to work with the government to continue to put measures in place to see how such areas can have access to clean water to prevent needless deaths due to other infectious,” she said.
Kanyi reinforced the part played by government, the private sector, the community, faith leaders and others who can influence hygiene habits in taking the lead to promote handwashing as a preventive measure of diseases.
The event was supported by private partners like international nutrition and Ahadi Trust Fund, who donated soap to the school administration to help keep the culture of handwashing in schools alive in primary schools.
By Anita Omwenga and Jane Ndungu