Written by : William Omwega
A simple act of cleaning hands with water and soap may lead to a tremendous reduction in disease burden in most African Countries. The majority of the people world wide consciously or unconsciously touch their face, nose, and lips several times daily making it easier to contract or transmit diarrhoe and acute respiratory infections in the process.
The importance of hand washing is fast gaining recognition around the globe with a number of Non- governmental organizations (NGO’s) introducing hand washing initiatives in schools in developing countries. The reinforcement of hand washing culture in schools will ensure that this habit is learnt and ingrained into the minds of children. The NGO’s have mostly partnered with Ministries of Health to provide simple water containers and soap in schools in poor resource settings. The results have been quite impressive with most head of schools reporting a significant drop in the cases of school children suffering from diarrhea, worm infestation and respiratory infections.
Hand washings should not only be encouraged before eating but also after visiting the toilet, preparing food especially raw meat , blowing your nose or sneezing into your hands, touching animals, handling garbage or coming into contact with a sick person .
As much as hand washing may sound like a simple procedure, if not done properly it may increase the amount of germs on ones hands. Proper hand washing requires that the hands are first wet with running water before applying soap or detergent and rubbing the hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds. All surfaces should be scrubbed including the back of the hands, between the fingers and under the nails before rinsing with adequate running water. Then the hands may be dried with a disposable towel or dried under a hand drier if available.
Despite multi-national companies promoting use of antibacterial or medicated soaps, research has shown that they are not more effective in killings germs than normal soaps. Some experts have even argued that the use of medicated soap might lead to development of strains of bacteria that are resistant to the antimicrobial agents in the soap, making it harder to kill these germs in the future.
The adoption of hand washing culture among children will lead to a reduction of nearly half of deaths caused by diarrhea. It will also cut down incidences of acute respiratory infections by a quarter hence saving millions of lives in most of the African countries, including South Sudan.
Access to clean water is still a major challenge in most parts of South Sudan but with the increase in the number of boreholes being sunk in and around schools, the time to promote proper hand washing is now. This may involve the partnership between Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health (MOH) and other health stake holders in providing water, containers and soap. School children will also be given health education on the importance of hand washing and possibly include it in the school curriculum to ensure that the practice is adopted across the nation.
It doesn’t cost a lot to initiate and implement this initiative but the health benefits are better than any single vaccine or any medical intervention .This good health habit will contribute towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal of reducing deaths among children below the age of 5 years by two-thirds by the year 2015.