The power of handwashing in keeping sanitation-related diseases at bay

BY: Edmund Smith Asante
Hawkers of consumables need to practice proper handwashing

It comes naturally and it is almost involuntary for a person to wash his or her hands before touching food or after soiling or dirtying the hands.

What, however, does not come naturally, is the use of soap to thoroughly wash the hands under running water, especially before touching food or eating a meal.

It is common to see even adults buy groundnuts and other snacks and just start eating without thinking of washing the hands well first. Some also believe that by just dipping their hands into water they would have done justice to washing of the hands before eating common Ghanaian meals eaten with the hands such as fufu, banku, konkonte and kenkey, among many other types of food.

Food vendors and especially hawkers are the worst offenders when it comes to the practice of handwashing, because some of them are seen urinating by the roadside and the next minute they go back to the food they are selling, to dish out to unsuspecting buyers without first ensuring th

It is essentially to inculcate in people the need to wash the hands with soap under running water, that Global Handwashing Day (GHD) was founded by the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing in 2008.

The GHD, which has since then been commemorated on October 15 each year, is an opportunity to design, test and replicate creative ways to encourage people to wash their hands with soap at critical times.

GHD is a global advocacy day dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding about the importance of handwashing with soap as an easy, effective, and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives.

GHD was created at the annual World Water Week 2008, which was held in Stockholm from August 17 to 23. The first Global Handwashing Day took place on October 15, 2008, the date appointed by the UN General Assembly in accordance with year 2008 as the International Year of Sanitation.


The power of handwashing

The campaign was initiated to reduce childhood mortality rates, related respiratory and diarrhoeal diseases by introducing simple behavioural changes - hand washing with soap. Research has shown that the simple act of washing one’s hands with soap under running water reduces the rate of deaths from sanitation-related diseases by almost 50 per cent.

A ‘Saving Lives’ report released by international NGO, WaterAid in 2012, indicated that globally, 1.4 million children die every year from preventable diarrhoea and sanitation-related diseases alone.

Speaking at a workshop in Tamale in March this year, the Head of Programmes of WaterAid, Ghana, Mr Yaw Asante Sarkodie, said available records at the Ministry of Health (MOH) indicated that over 60 per cent of all Out-Patient Department (OPD) cases were water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)-related diseases.

Commemoration in Ghana

In Ghana, CWSA together with partners in the WASH sector will join the people in Tamale to mark the GHD.

This year’s commemoration is on the theme: “Raise a hand for hygiene” and “through the campaign, hygiene has been included in the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) agenda both in the vision statement and included in target 6.2 and this is very good news,” says the national coordinator for GHD, Mrs Theodora Adomako-Adjei of the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA).

Goal Six of the SDGs pushes for the “availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” while target 6.2 indicates that “By 2030, 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.”

Mrs Adomako-Adjei, however, stated that “the work for advocating hygiene is not complete. We still need a mandatory global indicator to ensure that hygiene is prioritised, progress made and commitments fulfilled.”

Explaining the significance of the theme, she said its key components of affiliation, measurement and advocacy, called on all to become hygiene champions, raise their hands for the government to count how many people washed their hands and had access to hygiene facilities in homes, schools, healthcare facilities and communities and also urge parents to ask for a better school hygiene policy.

“Handwashing with soap is a critical component of hygiene practices. Hygiene is the conditions and practices that maintain health and prevent the spread of diseases, including handwashing with soap, menstrual hygiene management and food hygiene. Governments must measure hygiene indicators to know where resources should be concentrated,” she stressed.

“Unlike other health interventions, such as vaccines, handwashing must be practised consistently to be effective. It needs to become a habit that people automatically perform at critical times. This requires first that people are reminded or persuaded to do so, on a regular basis before it becomes a habit,” Mrs Adomako-Adjei stated.

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