Global Handwashing Day supports health of Pacific
UNICEF Pacific aims to demonstrate how communities can make a big difference to their health through the simple act of washing their hands.
October the 15th was UNICEF's Global Handwashing Day, when children and caregivers were shown the importance handwashing has to their health and wellbeing.
Figures released by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation show last year almost 340,000 children across the world died as a result of a lack of basic hygiene and safe water.
The water, sanitation and hygiene specialist at UNICEF in Fiji, Marcus Overmas, told Sophie Leggett it is a complicated issue to address in the Pacific, but the simple act of handwashing can play a big part in combating disease.
MARCUS OVERMAS: Well, especially in the Pacific, we know that about 3000 people die each year as a result of diarrhoea, and of those deaths, many of these are children under the age of five, and diarrhoea is the second most common cause of child deaths worldwide. And there's evidence, actually, handwashing with soap at critical times - just before eating, or preparing food, or handling babies, after using the toilet - it can reduce diarrhoeal risk by about half. And international studies have shown that soap can reduce the incidence of acute respiratory infections by about a quarter, so, hand washing with soap has really been an important element of cost-effective intervention to prevent diarrhoea.
SOPHIE LEGGETT: Why, why do you think there's so much of a problem, with children in particular, being so reluctant to wash their hands?
MO: Well, in the first instance there's not a habit of hand washing in all communities, and for instance at primary schools, or daycare centres. And it could be due to the lack of access to water, as a first step, but also maybe a lack of access to soap, and lack of access to, actually, the education and the kind of example-setting by parents and teachers.
SL: So, could you tell me a bit about how Global Handwashing Day came about, and how its been implemented in Fiji?
MO: Yeah, Global Handwashing Day is organised by UNICEF and a large number of partners, to create this global buzz about hand washing, ah, and in Fiji, for instance, we worked together with the Government, strongly with the Ministries of Health and Education, which - actually having programmes in place - really introduce handwashing in schools, for instance.
SL: I mean, in your opinion, what's the best way to educate young people about the importance of good hygiene?
MO: Well, first of all, there to be indeed access to facilities that can actually allow this to happen. Of course, clean water availability and toilet availability at schools is not always optimal, certainly not in the Pacific, so, this comprehensive package on washing at schools is quite important...that we don't only look at infrastructure, but also at the sustainability of support programmes and also the behaviour change of hand washing in children.
SL: Obviously children have more motivation to wash their hands on a day like today, but, how successful do you think days like this have been - or will be - in the long run?
MO: Yeah, it's really about investments eventually as well, and these investments can come from the Government, or from donor agencies, or from UNICEF, but for most, the investments have to come from the communities themselves, to really purchase soap, and to really be encouraged to really do the hand washing themselves. And global evidence has shown, if you can reduce the diarrhoea occurrence by half, it's really quite a worthwhile investment, and it doesn't have to cost that much.
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