To save lives, handwashing should be a way of life

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019 00:34 |

Pawan Kumar Marella         

Every 23 seconds, a child dies from either pneumonia or diarrhoea worldwide? Sad but true. Yet we know that access to safe water, adequate sanitation, and proper hygiene education—or WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene)—can reduce illness and death and have an impact on poverty reduction and socio-economic development. 

The simple act of handwashing for example, is the single most cost-effective way of curbing child deaths.

It can reduce the incidences of pneumonia by 23 per cent and diarrhoea by up to 45 per cent. When more people use soap regularly, and have access to sanitation, the impact on health is significant. In fact, if everyone followed ideal handwashing habits—washing with soap before eating and after using the toilet—each person would require approximately 20 bars of soaps every year. 

However, consumption levels are far below this, with 1.5 billion people using less than eight bars of soap per year. This clearly shows the magnitude of the task facing the world in terms of driving the WASH agenda.

While progress is being made, with Sustainable Development Goals number Three and Six clearly calling this out, more needs to be done. To address this challenge, we need the private sector, the public sector and the community to come together stronger to create a brighter future for our children.

Towards this end, a game-changing approach is in empowering young people to drive change. The power of young people in driving change across the world across many issues is well known. They want to be part of something meaningful and have an impact. Their connectedness, collaboration and sense of community is what’s going to make a big difference. 

In Kenya, for instance, Unilever’s Lifebuoy has been partnering with the HEROES4CHANGE programme to drive large scale hand-washing education initiatives, harnessing the untapped power of university students. The project is a social mobilisation model, leveraging the power of young people by engaging them through digital social platforms to train them and then getting them to deploy hand-washing behaviour change programmes across Kenya. 

The first phase of the initiative was conducted in 2017, with 100 young heroes reaching over 100,000 children across the country. This year, 500 heroes were recruited and reached 700,000 children, who were taught the life-saving habit of handwashing. 

The success of this programme has now inspired organisations such as Safaricom and U-AFYA to join the model and as more and more partners join the initiative. Another aspect of this journey is to constantly raise awareness of the importance of handwashing with soap to prevent disease. A major event to do this is the Global Handwashing Day that is celebrated every year on October 15. 

At least 200 million people take part in celebrating the day in more than 100 countries. 

Lifebuoy has been celebrating the day in Kenya for some years now by committing once more to the cause of helping every child reach the age of  five. As we go forward together on this journey, we inspire each one of you today, on Global Handwashing Day, to give a High Five to a person next to you to celebrate GHD . It’s a sign of celebration and most importantly, a sign of clean confident hands. It’s a way of life.

—The writer is marketing director, Unilever Kenya

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