Better Sanitation and Hygiene
As well as strengthening the nutritional intake of mothers, newborns and infants, UNICEF focuses on improving poor sanitation and hygiene to improve their health and chances of survival.
Millions of already vulnerable underweight newborns in India are born in such poor conditions. Their first mothers-embrace, the first time they are held by a birth attendant, and the first time they are fed are likely to be with hands covered in diarrhoea-causing bacteria from faeces - increasing their chances of infection, critical illness, stunting or death.
As much as 50 per cent of malnutrition is caused not by a lack of food or poor diets, but due to poor water, poor sanitation facilities and unhygienic practices – like not washing hands properly with soap – which leads to life-threatening disease and infections such as diarrhoea.
There is little benefit for the child if a new mother washes her hands, while her nurse, midwife, mother-in-law and other family members who come into contact with the newborn do not use a toilet and do not wash their hands too. India is not reaching its sanitation targets fast enough - only constructing 20 million new toilets a year.
A key strategy in UNICEFs work is tackling open defecation and the lack of sanitation facilities for whole communities so everyone is aware of its importance in child survival, nutrition and growth.
Preventing children under two years old from dying, as well as preventing malnutrition and stunting in India can only be tackled fully with a focus on ensuring doctors, nurses, caregivers and mothers all have clean hands from the moment a child is born, breastfed or when food is prepared. This can only be done with adequate water and sanitation facilities in both health centres and in homes, and better knowledge and thorough hand washing with soap.
UNICEF works in partnership Government programmes such as the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP
), and the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (Total Sanitation Campaign) that encourages communities to demand and then construct and use their own latrines.
Using state level pilot initiatives, UNICEF offers the government high-level technical support to demonstrate policies, practices and strategies that work – based on field-based data and evidence of progress in child survival.