NEW DELHI, India, 27 October 2009– Ten million students and 250,000 gram panchayats across India today celebrated the second annual Handwashing Day by demonstrating the correct way of washing their hands with soap, the best protection against diarrhoea and influenza.
Ms Agatha Sangma, Hon'ble Minister of State for Rural Development; Ms Rajwant Sandhu and Mr. J.S. Mathur, Secretary and Joint Secretary of the Department of Drinking Water Supply of the Government of India; and Mr. P. Krishnamurthy, Director of the Department of Education of the Government of New Delhi, were to lend their support to more than 1,900 children who washed their hands with soap to promote good hygiene for health.
“The best protection against diarrhoea and flu we hold in our own hands,” said Lizette Burgers, Chief of Water and Environmental Sanitation at UNICEF. “At this time of daily alerts about flu and diarrhoea, washing hands with soap at critical times has never been more important.”
Television and radio spots featuring cricket sensation Sachin Tendulkar were also screened during the occasion with the Master Blaster telling Indian children that, “Clean hands are strong hands.”
Each year, diarrhoeal diseases and acute respiratory infections are responsible for the deaths of more than 3.5 million children under the age of five around the globe. The Center for Disease Control estimates that up to 80 per cent of diarrhoeal disease is transmitted through our hands.
Washing hands with soap and water especially at the critical times -- after using the toilet and before handling food -- helps reduce the incidence of diarrhoeal disease by more than 40 per cent and respiratory infections by nearly 25 per cent. Furthermore, washing hands with soap is also being recommended as a critical action to prevent the spread of influenza H1N1.
In India, diarrhoea is a major killer with about 1,000 children below the age of five dying every day due to diarrhoea alone. Handwashing with soap is one of the most inexpensive ways to prevent diarrhoeal disease. Proper handling and safe storage of water reduces incidences of diarrhea by nearly half.
A lack of toilet use is another reason for the high incidence of diarrhoea. Less than a third of India’s population use toilets regularly.
But the situation is improving with the Government of India’s flagship program – Total Sanitation Campaign. Nirmal Gram Purashkar has led to 18,020 gaon panchyats being declared open defecation free, a milestone being celebrated by the government 17 November.
For successful and sustained behavioural change to occur, proper handwashing must be taught at the earliest age possible. Under the slogan of “Clean hands save lives,” this year’s Handwashing Day is engaging schoolchildren as effective agents for change. The introduction of water, sanitation and hygiene interventions in schools, including handwashing with soap, is an entry point for children to understand and then take these good hygiene practices back into their homes and communities.
Unsafe water and inadequate sanitation are often major causes of lost work and missed school days, perpetuating the cycle of economic and social stagnation in many countries. Investments in health, child survival, education, water supply, and sanitation are all jeopardized if there is a lack of emphasis on handwashing with soap.
Handwashing with soap represents a cornerstone of public health and can be considered an affordable, accessible “do-it-yourself” vaccine.