Why hand wash­ing shouldn’t end with Ebola scare

Daily Trust - - HEALTH - By Alex Abutu and Ojoma Akor

AT the height of the Ebola scare last year, hand wash­ing be­came a rou­tine among Nige­ri­ans , in­fact some peo­ple in­spite of their level of ed­u­ca­tion and financial stand­ing got to know about hand san­i­tiz­ers for the first time.

But to­day how many peo­ple still wash their hands reg­u­larly?

Find­ings from a sur­vey car­ried out by UNICEF in six states, showed that an av­er­age of 82 per cent of peo­ple wash their hands be­fore eat­ing, while only 53 per cent of peo­ple wash their hands with soap af­ter defe­ca­tion. Alarm­ingly, only about 14 per cent of peo­ple wash their hands with soap af­ter clean­ing a child’s fae­ces.

This ac­cord­ing to the or­ga­ni­za­tion poses a se­ri­ous pub­lic-health risk. Ev­ery year Nige­ria loses over 150,000 chil­dren from di­ar­rhoea alone, largely caused by un­safe wa­ter, san­i­ta­tion & hy­giene prac­tices. This is equiv­a­lent to a big pas­sen­ger air­craft crash­ing ev­ery day.

Hand wash­ing ac­cord­ing to ex­perts has a lot of health ben­e­fits and should be a reg­u­lar thing.

“Reg­u­lar hand wash­ing with soap af­ter us­ing toi­lets, af­ter chang­ing chil­dren’s nap­pies and be­fore eat­ing or han­dling food saves more lives than any sin­gle vac­cine or med­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion. It can re­duce deaths from di­ar­rhea by al­most half and deaths from acute res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions by one-quar­ter,” UNICEF Nige­ria of­fice said in a state­ment to mark this year’s global Hand­wash­ing Day.

Hand­wash­ing with soap was also an im­por­tant line of de­fense against the spread of Ebola in Nige­ria.

When Nige­ria joined other coun­tries to mark the global Hand­wash­ing Day last week, it was low key and with­out the usual fan­fare that sur­rounds the cel­e­bra­tion of such days in the coun­try and this Daily Trust gath­ered was as a re­sult of the ab­sence of any scare of dis­eases like Ebola that once threat­ened the coun­try.

Ev­ery Oc­to­ber 15 is com­mem­o­rated as Global Hand­wash­ing Day. It is an an­nual global ad­vo­cacy day ded­i­cated to in­creas­ing aware­ness and un­der­stand­ing about the im­por­tance of hand­wash­ing with soap as an easy, ef­fec­tive and af­ford­able way to pre­vent dis­eases and save lives.

The cam­paign was ini­ti­ated to re­duce child­hood mor­tal­ity rates re­lated to res­pi­ra­tory and di­ar­rhoea dis­eases by in­tro­duc­ing sim­ple be­havioural changes such as hand­wash­ing with soap.

Ac­cord­ing to Dr Orode Do­herty of Africare, hand wash­ing is im­por­tant at all times be­cause it can pre­vent and re­duce dis­eases, and also peo­ple pre­pare nu­tri­tious meals in a safe man­ner.

She said it is also im­por­tant for women to wash their hands be­fore breast feed­ing and main­tain clean safety nu­tri­tional prac­tice , fo­cus­ing on the first 1000 days of their babes’ lives be­cause that it is op­ti­mal time for brain to be nour­ished.

The 2015 UNICEF/WHO Joint Mon­i­tor­ing Pro­gramme (JMP) re­port re­vealed that Nige­ria has recorded prac­ti­cally no progress in the area of san­i­ta­tion and hy­giene. It was high­lighted that since 1990, only 9 per cent of Nige­ri­ans have gained ac­cess to im­proved san­i­ta­tion and only an es­ti­mated 12 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion have a hand­wash­ing fa­cil­ity with soap and wa­ter at home.

Sim­i­larly, around 68,000 chil­dren un­der the age of five die from dis­eases caused by the na­tion’s poor lev­els of ac­cess to safe wa­ter, san­i­ta­tion and hy­giene. This clearly shows the need to es­ca­late and push san­i­ta­tion and hy­giene in­ter­ven­tions and pro­mo­tion up the de­vel­op­ment agenda.

In the wake of the Ebola cri­sis in Nige­ria in 2013, vir­tu­ally all pub­lic places, schools, banks, churches and mo­tor parks had pro­vi­sion for wa­ter and soap for hand wash.

It got to the ex­tent that peo­ple stop shak­ing hands while stu­dents, pupils and or­gan­i­sa­tions were either forced to buy hand san­i­tiz­ers or pro­vided it for their vis­i­tors and cus­tomers.

But now that the Ebola scare is gone life has re­turned to busi­ness as usual as a check by Daily Trust shows that bank se­cu­rity staff that dur­ing the Ebola scare would go to any length to pre­vent some­one from en­ter­ing the bank now care­less as con­cen­tra­tion is now on se­cu­rity.

All the banks vis­ited in Garki Area 3 part of Abuja no longer had pro­vi­sion for hand wash­ing.

A visit round schools in the city cen­tre and sub­urb also showed that the in­ten­sive hand wash­ing cam­paign by schools also fiz­zle out af­ter the Ebola scare was con­tained.

The POWA pri­mary school, Area 11, where the former Min­is­ter of Wa­ter Resources, Mrs Sarah Ochekpe launched the 2014 hand wash­ing cam­paign may have also jet­ti­soned the prac­tice as there were no vis­i­ble sign of any hand wash­ing equip­ment.

At Kubwa, Mrs Bola Ojo, the Prin­ci­pal, LEA Ju­nior Sec­ondary School, said that they don’t have any hand wash­ing fa­cil­ity in the school that stu­dents can use.

At the LEA Pri­mary School, Kubwa 2, there was no hand wash­ing fa­cil­i­ties even as Mr Tuta Stephen Dada, head­mas­ter called on gov­ern­ment and or­gan­i­sa­tion to as­sist the school:

He ap­pealed to the gov­ern­ment and all rel­e­vant author­i­ties to pro­vide bows, taps and hand wash liq­uid to the school ur­gently, say­ing: “at least 20 bows would be enough in each class.”

At the Gov­ern­ment Pri­mary School, Nyanya, Chika, a pri­mary three pupil told Daily Trust that she no longer washes her hand in school.

“Last year that we were told to bring soap and san­i­tiz­ers to school and we had con­tain­ers of wa­ter all over the place to wash our hands, but that is over now, we no longer wash our hands in school,” Chika said.

Just like Chika’s school, most other schools in the FCT have aban­doned the hand­wash­ing cul­ture and this a teacher in one of the schools who pledged anonymity said was be­cause there was noth­ing to be scare of any longer.

At Kuje, the man­age­ment of the Ibn Ma­sud Is­lamic Pri­mary School Kuje, said they pro­vide hand­wash­ing fa­cil­i­ties for their pupils but Daily Trust Health Desk did not see any fa­cil­i­ties from the en­trance till the ad­min­is­tra­tive block.

Ev­ery­one should form the habit of wash­ing their hands, as its ben­e­fits does not end with Ebola.

Even health care fa­cil­i­ties of­ten lack places for hand wash­ing. Some 42 per cent of them in WHO’s Africa Re­gion have no wa­ter source avail­able within 500 me­ters

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