Hand­wash­ing Day helps spread the good news about soap

The Sunday Independent - - DISPATCHES -

MORE than 3.4 mil­lion peo­ple the world over die ev­ery year from wa­ter­borne dis­eases. In South Africa, cholera and ty­phoid epi­demics have been iden­ti­fied as the silent as­sas­sins that creep up on chil­dren un­der the age of five. Lack of ac­cess to clean wa­ter and poverty are the ma­jor causes for the out­break of the dis­eases, the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion says in its report.

Fur­ther­more, a report pub­lished re­cently in the med­i­cal jour­nal, The Lancet, con­cluded poor wa­ter san­i­ta­tion and a lack of safe drink­ing wa­ter take a greater hu­man toll than war, ter­ror­ism and weapons of mass de­struc­tion com­bined. How­ever, the two ma­jor and over­rid­ing fac­tors that fa­cil­i­tate in­fec­tious dis­ease trans­mis­sion are poverty, with its associated over­crowd­ing, and hu­man be­hav­iour, es­pe­cially close hu­man con­tact (as peo­ple live in crowded con­di­tions, of­ten clus­ter­ing around wa­ter).

In South Africa the need for this aware­ness of wa­ter-re­lated mi­cro­bial dis­eases arose as a re­sult of the ty­phoid epi­demic in 2005 in Del­mas, Mpumalanga, which claimed the lives of five peo­ple and led to dozens of oth­ers be­ing ad­mit­ted to hos­pi­tal after hu­man waste was found in one of the boreholes. Sal­mo­nella ty­phi, the bac­te­ria that causes ty­phoid, was found in bore­hole A4 in the area.

Ac­cord­ing to an as­sess­ment com­mis­sioned by the UN, 4000 chil­dren die each day as a re­sult of dis­eases caused by in­ges­tion of filthy wa­ter. The report says four out of ev­ery 10 peo­ple in the world, par­tic­u­larly those in Africa and Asia, do not have clean wa­ter to drink.

“At any given time, close to half the pop­u­la­tion of the de­vel­op­ing world is suf­fer­ing from wa­ter-borne dis­eases associated with inad­e­quate pro­vi­sion of wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion ser­vices. There are about four bil­lion cases of di­ar­rhoeal dis­eases per year, re­sult­ing in about one or two mil­lion deaths, 90% of which, trag­i­cally, are in chil­dren un­der the age of five,” said Hugh Peter­son of WHO.

Cholera, ty­phoid fever and hep­ati­tisA are caused by bac­te­ria, and are among the most com­mon di­ar­rhoeal dis­eases.Other ill­nesses, such as dysen­tery, are caused by par­a­sites that live in wa­ter con­tam­i­nated by the fae­ces of sick peo­ple. Lakes and streams which peo­ple use for drink­ing wa­ter, bathing and defe­cat­ing are sources of dis­ease, as is wa­ter left by nat­u­ral dis­as­ters. Last year’s tsunami left vic­tims in an­kle-deep wa­ter, amid de­stroyed sewage pipes.

Peo­ple can also con­tract a di­ar­rhoeal dis­ease by eat­ing food that’s pre­pared by in­fected peo­ple who have not washed their hands, or touch­ing some­thing han­dled by an in­fected per­son and then put­ting their own hands into their mouths.

Hy­giene ex­perts say there are short-term and long-term mea­sures that can be taken to pre­vent the spread of wa­ter-borne ill­nesses. In the short term, they say peo­ple should wash their hands as much as pos­si­ble, use a la­trine, even if it’s a hole in the ground, and boil wa­ter and store it. For the long term, com­mu­ni­ties must have sources of clean drink­ing wa­ter. Up to 50% of places with un­safe drink­ing wa­ter once had sys­tems that func­tioned, but they fell apart due to lack of main­te­nance.

It is against this back­ground that South Africans will join the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity in cel­e­brat­ing Global Hand­wash­ing Day on Oc­to­ber15. This cam­paign aims to in­crease aware­ness about the im­por­tance of wash­ing your hands with soap as an easy, ef­fec­tive and af­ford­able way to pre­vent dis­eases and save lives. The min­is­ter of wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion will visit Masedi Pri­mary, a crèche and a clinic in Klerks­dorp, North West, to share the ex­pe­ri­ence of hand­wash­ing with lo­cal chil­dren.

Un­der the theme Our Hands, Our Fu­ture, on this day we South Africans will be re­minded that hand-wash­ing pro­tects our own health, but also al­lows us to build our own fu­ture, as well as those of our com­mu­ni­ties and the world. The de­part­ment has fos­tered strong part­ner­ships with the pri­vate sec­tor, es­pe­cially the com­pa­nies that man­u­fac­ture hy­giene-re­lated prod­ucts.

The first Global Hand­wash­ing Day was held in 2008, when more than 120mil­lion chil­dren around the world washed their hands with soap in more than 70 coun­tries. Since 2008, com­mu­nity and na­tional lead­ers have used Global Hand­wash­ing Day to spread the word about hand-wash­ing, and build sinks and Tippy Taps.

Each year, more than 200mil­lion peo­ple are in­volved in cel­e­bra­tions in more than 100 coun­tries around the world. The day is en­dorsed by a wide range of gov­ern­ments, in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions, civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions, NGOs, pri­vate com­pa­nies, and in­di­vid­u­als.

Hand-wash­ing is an af­ford­able, ef­fec­tive way to achieve the goals of hy­giene, even among poor com­mu­ni­ties.

Wash­ing with soap could pre­vent many of the 272mil­lion school days lost to di­ar­rhoeal dis­ease each year, and 50% of the in­fec­tions ac­quired in health care set­tings.

Ef­forts on Global Hand­wash­ing Day to pro­mote the ben­e­fits and prac­tice of hand-wash­ing with soap, as well as fos­ter­ing ac­cess to and im­prov­ing hy­giene fa­cil­i­ties, can help us work to­wards a fu­ture of zero hunger, good health, qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion, re­duced in­equal­ity and more.

Khu­malo is a Con­tent De­vel­oper in the De­part­ment of Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion

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