Public Health: Importance Of Hand Washing


With Cholera ravaging some communities in the country, concerned citizens insist that the need for all Nigerians to adopt the hygienic habit of hand washing with soap is now more imperative than ever.
This is because hand washing, as one of the most cost-effective public health interventions, has been globally accepted as a means of significantly reducing the burden of diseases such as diarrhoea by as much as 40 per cent.
According to the 2015 WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme’s Report on Sanitation and Drinking Water, one in three persons, or 2.4 billion people, lack access to basic water and sanitation facilities globally.
The report says that no fewer than 1,000 under-five children die each day from diarrhoea caused by inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene; compared to over 2,000 children 15 years ago.
It also notes that 50 per cent of child malnutrition cases are due to repeated diarrhoea and intestinal infections that are caused by poor sanitation and hygiene conditions or lack of safe water.
The report says that hand washing with soap is a critical determinant for achieving and maintaining good nutrition, while this healthy behaviour plays an important role in preventing micronutrient deficiencies, stunting, wasting and deaths.
Nevertheless, development experts believe that for Nigeria to meet the goal of reducing preventable deaths, particularly with regard to under-five children, pragmatic efforts must be made to ensure that everyone imbibes the culture of hand washing.
Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), UNICEF Nigeria, Mr Kannar Nadar, calls on all stakeholders to take ownership of programmes aimed at scaling up people’s access to WASH so as to reduce the number of deaths from water-borne diseases in the country.
He maintains that development partners alone cannot drive the change, insisting that they can only act as catalysts for scaling up sanitation programmes.
He stresses that Nigeria cannot achieve much in efforts to scale up sanitation projects if it fails to put measures in place to encourage all the citizens to make sanitation a priority.
“Nigeria needs to take ownership of activities aimed at scaling up the citizens’ access to WASH.
“Donors have a little work to do; the bulk of the work is for countries to take ownership of their sanitation programmes,” Nadar says.
A Sanitation Officer with the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Mrs Chizoma Opara, says that regular hand washing is the first line of defence against preventable diseases like diarrhoea and infections like the Ebola Virus Disease.
“If we want to protect our children from getting sick, the first thing to do is to educate them about washing their hands properly.
“Ingraining the habit of hand washing could save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention,” she adds.
Opara says that a systemic change towards the hand washing culture is, therefore, critical to meeting the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goal of achieving zero deaths in under-five children.
Sharing similar sentiments,  a Public Health Consultant, Dr Nneze Eze, emphasised that hand washing with soap before eating and after using the toilet should be made an ingrained habit of the people.
He says that the adoption of the hand washing habit can save more lives than any vaccine or medical intervention, adding that it can also cut deaths from diarrhoea by almost half and deaths from acute respiratory infections by one-quarter.
Eze says that rationale behind creation of Global Hand-washing Day (October 15) is to help sensitise the people, particularly children, to the importance of hand washing with soap and water.
“It is also important that when this is done, it encourages children to practise hand washing at home, at school and in their communities, adding that this will also influence people around them to do the same,’’ he says.
The Country Director of Concern Universal, a non-governmental organisation, Mr Tim Kellow, urges all Nigerians to wash their hands with soap at critical times, saying that the practice will reduce diarrhoea-related deaths by 30 per cent.
According to him, imbibing the hand washing culture is a more cost-effective disease-prevention strategy than treating water sources or water point-of-use.
Kellow says that his group is implementing a sanitation and hygiene project in Nigeria, which aims at empowering no fewer than two million rural people to improve their sanitation practices in a sustainable manner.
He says that this will also go a long way to safeguard the dignity of every resident of such communities.
The country director says that three local government areas in Benue and Cross River states respectively are benefitting from the project, with the sole target of ending open defecation in the country.
Kellow reiterates that hygiene is the most important intervention that can promote human development, saying that this should be encouraged by everyone in its entirety.
He says that more people have been encouraged, via the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) programme, to change their behavioural practices to promote sound hygiene.
Kellow says that some individuals, who are “natural leaders’’, often act as activists and enthusiasts that drive sanitation and hygiene improvements in the communities.
“They act as environmental and health officers in their communities; they go about telling people about the dangers of open defecation and others,” he says.
He, however, bemoans the fact that Nigeria is still lagging behind in efforts to achieve improved access to basic sanitation and hygiene.
He, therefore, underscores the need to stage more awareness campaigns to enable more Nigerians to be acquainted with the benefits of hygiene and sanitation, saying that this is very vital to efforts to reduce preventable deaths.
Also speaking, the Programme Manager of Concern Universal, Mr Nanpet Chuktu, underscored the role of parents in educating their children and wards about the importance of washing their hands before eating and after going to toilets.
He, nonetheless, highlights the need for private individuals and industrialists to take ownership of sanitation projects in their neighbourhoods.
He says that this will go a long way in reducing the spread of preventable diseases, while boosting healthy living and enhancing the people’s productivity.
Speaking on the theme for this year’s Global Hand-Washing Day, “Raise a Hand for Hygiene”, a water and hygiene specialist, Mrs Abigael Onaiko, said that the theme, which is aimed at eliciting people’s action, can be used for advocacy purposes.
She says that the act of raising a hand symbolises affiliation, adding that it can also be a means of identifying oneself as an advocate for good hygiene.
Onaiko says that this can facilitate the creation of strong social norms of good hygiene in schools, communities and regions.
“Besides, when people raise a hand, they can be counted. So, in terms of hand washing, this is a reminder that it is possible for governments to count the persons who wash their hands and have access to basic hygiene amenities in homes and schools, as well as health care facilities.
“Governments must measure hygiene indicators to know where resources should be concentrated.
“Global Hand-washing Day is a good opportunity to ask governments to fulfil this all-important role.
“We can also raise a hand to draw attention to the need for change; parents’ associations can raise a hand to ask for better hygiene policies in schools; while celebrities can raise a hand to ask politicians to fund hygiene programmes,” he says.
All in all, sanitation experts believe that improved sanitation, provision of adequate potable water, awareness of disease transmission patterns in communities are vital to efforts to reduce deaths from water-borne and infectious diseases in the country.
Kolade writes for News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)