Every year, 1.7 million children worldwide die before the age of five from diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia, which are preventable by washing hands with soap, according to the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing (PPPHW).
PPPHW started an awareness initiative called “Global Handwashing Day” - this year, it was on October 15th, 2016 - to shed light on an important, and often overlooked, health habit: hand-washing. Here at CHIL, we have even written about the importance of hand-washing, and what you can do to encourage children to develop this fundamental habit. PPPHW goes into detail to explain how the positive effects of hand-washing can spread beyond children’s health.
Hand-washing with soap kills bacteria and viruses that can cause severe illnesses from diarrhea, skin and eye infections, pneumonia and acute respiratory infections, and even Ebola. It also reduces the risk of hospital-acquired infections especially when caring for children and infants.
The surface of our hands contains millions of invisible germs that come from handling waste and food, and these germs can include E.coli and norovirus, the most common causes of diarrhea from food poisoning. Even if they don’t cause severe food poisoning, these viruses and bacteria can prohibit the proper absorption of nutrients from food. Hand-washing breaks the resulting cycle between disease and undernutrition. When children do not properly absorb nutrients from what they eat, they are more susceptible to falling sick - it’s a vicious cycle that can be broken by developing a hand-washing habit.
Effective hand-washing is a fundamental component of a child’s education and school environment. Schools rightly dedicate time teaching young students about the benefits of careful hygiene, and the results are undeniable: better school attendance and better performance in the classroom.
Hand-washing is one of the most cost-effective interventions a citizen can engage in to improve his/her health, and it is something that children can learn at a young age. Compared to interventions like improving household water supply, or investing in immunizations, hand-washing is cheaper and more effective at reducing the incidence of disease. This is especially true in developing countries but remains relevant in our communities. Hand-washing is therefore an empowering habit because it is an affordable way to maintain health.
The importance of hand-washing should not be forgotten simply because it is an elementary, simple habit to develop. Join us in setting precedence to make everyday “Hand-Washing Day.” Schools and households can improve the health of the youngest members of society by prioritizing this simple hygiene habit.