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Clean hands save lives

© UNICEF/ 2008
Chilrden take oath to wash hands

Orissa Celebrates the First-ever Global Handwashing Day

Manipadma Jena

Khurda, Orissa, 15 October 2008: School children in Orissa joined millions of children in more than 70 countries across the world on October 15 to observe the first-ever Global Handwashing Day using school children as activist advocates to promote handwashing with soap.

In Khurda district of Orissa, the morning began early for about 1250 excited school children from six schools who participated in a series of events including a rally through five villages propagating the benefits of hand washing with soap to other children and adults who remain unaware that this simple intervention can actually save lives.

Eleven year old Priyadarshini Das of Janla Upper Primary School, ten kilometers from State capital Bhubaneswar, now knows that even if her hands may appear clean, bacteria lurking on them can cause diarrhea, eye and respiratory ailments.

In Khurda district of Orissa, the morning began early for about 1250 excited school children from six schools who participated in a series of events including a rally through five villages propagating the benefits of hand washing with soap to other children and adults who remain unaware that this simple intervention can actually save lives.

“My mother thinks it is enough to wash her hands with half a mug of water before she cooks.” Beaming with her newly acquired knowledge she adds, “Now, I will ask her to clean her hands with soap.”

Priyadarshini’s mother is not alone in this practice; very few wash their hands with soap after using the toilet, before handling food and after cleaning up a child.

Before administering the oath of sanitation to hundreds of enthusiastic schools children, the Minister for Rural Development, Biswabhusan Harichandan, underscored that it is important to bring home to people the huge and critical health impact of this commonplace daily ritual to which many really do not give much thought.

Narayan Chandra Jena, District Collector and Chief Executive of the District Water Sanitation Mission, which organized the mass school handwashing event in Khurda, added that only through the medium of school children - a live conduit from child to parents to community - can this message be spread widely.

© UNICEF/ 2008
Dignitaries on the diaz including Rural Development Minister, UNICEF State Representative, Rural Development Secretary

“But where is all the water to adopt good sanitation habits?” queries lady Sarpanch (head) of Janla Panchayat, Pankajini Patnaik, voicing the concern of many that lack access to water, thus  hindering the practice of proper sanitation habits. Rural and many urban areas in Orissa have little piped water coverage.

It is estimated that four out of five diseases is spread by our hands. A study conducted in five districts of Orissa found that as few as 23 percent school children wash their hands with soap before eating. Proper handwashing with soap can reduce diarrhoeal cases by nearly half.

UNICEF’s State Representative for Orissa, Shadrack Omol, puts Pankajini’s question in perspective, “Once people start thinking that a thing is important, they will go to great lengths for it. We may think that if we make water easily accessible, people will automatically practice sanitation; experience from other countries like South Africa shows that it is not necessarily access to water that changes sanitation habits, understanding the health implications does.

It is estimated that four out of five diseases is spread by our hands. A study conducted in five districts of Orissa found that as few as 23 percent school children wash their hands with soap before eating. Proper handwashing with soap can reduce diarrhoeal cases by nearly half. This very ordinary act can therefore have an extraordinary impact on saving the lives of millions of children in Orissa, as all over the world: CLEAN HANDS SAVE LIVES!”

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