By Princewill Ekwujuru

The Global Hand-washing Day, promoted by the Global Hand-washing Partnership in 2008 and adopted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), is celebrated annually on October 15, as a way to increase awareness and understanding of the benefits of hand-washing with soap across the globe.

Global handwashing day

The act of hand-washing with soap may seem too simple but the health benefits for those who diligently observe the basic rule could be immense. Also, the cost of lack of this basic hygiene lifestyle could be huge on personal and national fronts. One of the commonest diseases that could be contracted by not washing the hands at critical times is diarrhoea, the condition of having at least three loose or liquid bowel movements each day. It is caused by germs like salmonella, e. coli, and norovirus which could be picked from human or animal faeces.

60,000 children below 5 years die of diarrhea every year in Nigeria – WaterAid

These kinds of germs, according to experts, can get onto hands after people use the toilet or change a diaper or after handling raw meats that may have invisible quantities of animal faeces on them. People can also pick up these germs by touching any object that is contaminated with germs deposited when someone coughed or sneezed on it or was touched by some other contaminated object. When these germs get onto people’s hands and are not washed off, such people could be infected and, with time, they would fall sick.

Diarrhoea statistics

The diarrhoea statistics of Nigeria is staggering. We rank fourth in the list of countries with the highest diarrhoeal diseases’ deaths in the world. According to the latest WHO data, Nigeria recorded a total of 186,218 deaths from diarrhoea last year. This represents 9.16 percent of all the deaths recorded in the country and an age adjusted death rate is 127.79 per 100,000 of population.

The good news is that these ugly statistics could be stemmed by the adoption of simple proper hygiene practice by the populace. It is advisable that people wash their hands at critical times as before, during, and after preparing food, before eating food, before and after caring for someone who is sick, before and after treating a cut or wound, and after using the toilet.

Other times are after changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet, after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, after touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste, after handling pet food or pet treatment and after touching garbage.

Alcohol based sanitizer

Centres for Diseases Control (CDC) advises that people wash their hands with soap and clean, running water but if clean, running water is not accessible, as is common in most rural areas, use soap and available water or use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol to clean hands in the absence of water and soap.

The bad news is that the awareness for this health menace is far below the desirable. Granted that access to basic sanitation services, according to UNICEF is still sprawling at 29 percent in the country, the lack of this life-saving awareness for proper hygiene lifestyle is the major cause of the high prevalence and high mortality rate of diarrhoea and other communicable diseases in the country. And this is where the annual Global Hand-washing Day celebration comes in – to promote awareness for the benefits of hand-washing and encourage the adoption of proper hygiene lifestyles among the people. The promoters of the Day call on corporate bodies to assist governments in this regard.

The reason for this private-public partnership is not far-fetched. With a 3.7 percent budgetary allocation for health, it would be presumptuous to expect the Nigerian government to successfully achieve the expected goals of proper hygiene lifestyle alone. It, therefore, falls on the organised private sector players to augment the efforts of the government in achieving these goals.

One of the corporate bodies that have answered this patriotic call of both promoting this awareness and of encouraging the adoption of the hygienic lifestyle is Reckitt Benckiser, makers of Dettol, Nigeria’s leading antibacterial brand. In celebrating this year’s Global Hand-washing Day, the brand brought together over 2,000 students from various private and public schools in Abuja to the L.E.A Model Primary School, Maitama, and educated them on the benefits of leading proper hygienic lifestyles.

Resource persons for the medical fields took turns to take the various aspects of the issue, its benefits, when and how to wash the hands, and the dangers that not washing the hands regularly. To demonstrate the lessons learnt at the event, attending students later took part in the hand-washing relay that held at the venue.

Hand-washing habit

In his remarks, the General Manager of Reckitt Benckiser West Africa, Dayanand Sriram, called on the students, in particular, and all Nigerians, in general, to imbibe the hand-washing habit as a day-to-day activity so as to reduce the incidence of communicable diseases and their costly outcomes. He noted the World Health Organisation findings that proper hygiene habit like regular handwashing could reduce the incidence of these diseases by 59 percent.

“We believe that it is important to inculcate good habits such as proper handwashing at an early age. Dettol has been the trusted champion for good health and hygiene for over 50 years in Nigeria, and this is why we are continuing with the tradition of driving habit change, and provision of needed infrastructure,” said Sriram.

He listed some of the company’s contributions towards the promotion of personal hygiene in the country, especially in the area of hand-washing. “Over the past seven years, Dettol has provided over 32 hand-washing sites and educated over seven million children, parents and teachers on the importance of hand-washing through the School Hygiene Program,” he concluded.

The highpoint of the event was the commissioning of the 12 hand-washing stations the company donated to the L.E.A Model Primary School, Maitama, Abuja.


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