Do you always wash your hands with soap and water each time you use the toilet, before you put anything into your mouth, even without prompting, whenever your hands have been idle for a while?
It’s another Global Handwashing week/day and another opportunity in the year to remind everyone about the importance of hand-wash to our health.
As the world commemorates Global Handwashing Day under the theme ‘Clean hands – a recipe for health’ which focuses on the link between handwashing, food and nutrition, experts say, creating awareness on the need for handwashing with soap at critical times has become very imperative.
According to Wateraid Nigeria, washing hands with soap and water reduces cases of diarrhoea by almost 50%.
Unfortunately, on average, it is estimated that only about 19% (that is less than 20 people out of a hundred, will was their hands after defecation.
Available data from the Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS 2017) shows, 33m Nigerians practice open defecation, thus fueling the pollution of surface and underground water.
In addition, the MICS data also shows that only one out of five people will wash their hands with soap and water after defecating, thus transmitting infections such as diarrhoeal diseases which is responsible for 2195 deaths among children.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 842,000 deaths from diarrheal diseases each year could be prevented by improved water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). This is simply because diarrheal is known to cause body fluid depletion, dehydration which can cause brain damage.
According to WASH Specialist (Research), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Mainga Moono Banda,
The effect of WASH on school attendance or educational performance can manifest itself through thee main pathways:
- Pupil absence due to diarrheal disease : It is estimated that 194 million school days would be gained due to less diarrheal disease if targets for sanitation were met(WHO, 2004)
- Girls’ absence due to difficulty of managing menstrual hygiene monthly (MHM): One contributing factor is a lack of appropriate WASH facilities, without which many girls are likely to miss school while they menstruate. Without the appropriate facilities girls cannot adequately manage their menstrual hygiene, resulting in particular in fear of embarrassment or teasing associated with unpleasant odours or stains (Sommer, 2010; McMahon et al., 2011);
- Pupil absence due to the need to fetch drinking water: This can lead to missed classes, in particular if children have to make more than one trip per day to collect water (Fisher, 2004; Hemson, 2007). One study in 25 countries in Africa estimated that, collectively, children spent 4 million hours per day collecting water, which made them unable to attend school (WHO, 2012b)
Similarly, according to ‘The recipe for success: How policy-makers can integrate water, sanitation and hygiene into action to end malnutrition’, a global report produced by Action Against Hunger, the SHARE Consortium and WaterAid, 43.6% of children under five in Nigeria are stunted and 10% of under five deaths is caused by diarrhoea, linked to poor access to water, sanitation and good hygiene.
So, do you wash your hands always with soap and water? There are many benefits of always washing our hands with soap and water.
Some notable benefits of handwashing with soap and water include prevention of health associated infections especially in hospital settings either as a patient, visitor or healthcare provider and reduction or interruption of non-transmissible diseases such as Trachoma, schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminthiasis (STH) and Guinea worm.
Regular Hand Washing with soap and water also helps to reduce maternal diseases and death especially among pregnant women, death and morbidity in childhood and adolescents as well as improve the Nutritional status of everyone in the family and society.
The global target of the Sustainable Development Goal 6 is to achieve a universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for ALL by 2030.
And by 2030, all must equally, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for ALL, and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.
Nigerians are urged to challenge those seeking political offices at this time to commit to, and be held accountable to provide access to clean and safe water sources in both rural and urban areas of the country.