Soap can defeat the biggest enemy of Sudanese children, UNICEF chief tells handwashing event
By Priyanka Khanna
Khartoum, 15 October 2011 – “The biggest enemy of Sudan does not carry guns but lives on the hands of Sudanese children!” said Nils Kastberg, UNICEF Sudan Country Representative, addressing hundreds of enthralled children and others attending an event in Khartoum marking Global Handwashing Day.
“Our children are the future of Sudan and far too many die each year before they reach the age of five on account of diseases, spread chiefly by unclean hands. Wash your hands with soap to defeat this enemy,” said Kastberg at the event organised by the Government of Sudan’s Public Water Corporation, multinational corporation Unilever, and UNICEF.
To the beat of a specially composed song, the children performed the prescribed actions for washing hands with soap, in solidarity with hundreds of millions of people across the globe who celebrated the fourth annual Global Handwashing Day, emphasising the importance of handwashing with soap as an effective, simple and affordable way to prevent diseases.
Similar celebrations were replicated across Sudan including camps for Internally Displaced People. Islamic teachings that promote hygienic practices were made use of with many religious leaders joining the cause by giving summons in the Friday prayers.
Presidential Advisor Dr. Mohamed Balal Altayeb told the event in Khartoum: “As Muslims we are required to wash our hands before prayers, five times a day. Washing your hands with soap in critical times is lifesaving and a habit that should be inculcated in each child and all mothers.”
Each year, more than 160,000 children in Sudan under the age of five die from preventable diseases such as acute watery diarrhoea or respiratory infections. Washing hands with soap especially at critical times -- after using the toilet and before handling food -- helps reduce the incidence of diarrhoea and respiratory infection among children under five by almost 50 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively.
Despite these obvious benefits, hand washing is not practiced widely enough in Sudan and many other developing countries. Global Handwashing Day is used as a mass mobilisation and advocacy tool to underscore the importance of hand washing regularly with soap and water among the people, especially children.
UNICEF estimates that diarrhoea kills 1.1 million children globally every year, while pneumonia-related illnesses take another 1.2 million child lives. Handwashing with soap prevents disease in a more straightforward and cost-effective way than any single vaccine.
Besides working with Unilever and religious leaders, UNICEF Sudan Country Office and partners are working together to take the message to media, schools, playgrounds, community centers, hospitals, public spaces and to homes.