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Hand Washing Ambassadors improve the health of a community in Mukono District, Uganda

By Proscovia Nakibuuka

Hand washing with soap is one of the simplest and most effective ways of preventing hygiene and sanitation-related diseases like diarrhoea, cholera and pneumonia that cause unnecessary deaths, especially among children under the age of five.

To promote proper hand washing, the National Hand washing Secretariat in Uganda, with support from UNICEF, embarked on a hand washing campaign in a few selected districts. In these districts, training of selected personnel also locally know as Hand Washing Ambassadors has been done and these have been entrusted with creating awareness about the benefits of the practice.

In Mukono district, among those selected was Fatuma Nalubowa, a mother of six and a very dedicated Hand Washing Ambassador, from Samuka village of the same district.

“I volunteered for this role because we had too many cases of diarrhoea among children in almost all households, and some cases ending up in deaths,” Fatuma said.

Upon completion of the training, she embarked on her role as a “health ambassador” as she refers to herself, since she not only creates awareness about the benefits of hand washing but also delivers some health related messages on immunization, nutrition, HIV and AIDS.

Her typical day begins with visiting communities, sensitizing them about the benefits of proper hygiene and sanitation. Fatuma emphasizes that hand washing with soap at critical times – after using the toilet, before eating food, after cleaning a baby’s bottom and before feeding the baby – will drastically reduce hygiene and sanitation-related diseases. She also stresses that hand washing with water alone does not kill germs, so she encourages members to ensure they wash their hands with soap. After two weeks, she makes follow up visits to ensure that the households have implemented what was taught, and in a week she visits a maximum of five households.  

“Ever since I began working as a Hand Washing Ambassador, all households apart from four have constructed latrines and tippy taps and the community members have embraced the hand washing practice which has also spread to schools,” she boasts. She promises to aggressively follow up with the four remaining households and ensure the whole village is covered.

According to Mr. James Kiyemba, a Head Teacher from Katoogo Primary School, cases of absenteeism in the schools due to sanitation related disease like diarrhoea have gone down. The children from this school, who were trained by Fatuma and other Hand Washing Ambassadors, have embraced the hand washing practice. A row of tippy taps and soap are now set up alongside latrines.

The hand washing ambassadors in this village also use songs, poems and shorts plays to disseminate information about proper hygiene and sanitation practices. “Good sanitation, Good Hygiene and Hand washing are the best ways to lead a better life. If we change behaviour, we will enjoy a better life,” are some of the phrases in their sanitation anthem.

“When the community is healthy, it is more productive. It gives me joy to report that the people in my village are healthier as a result of this hand washing campaign and I pledge to ensure sustainability of the programme,” Fatuma concludes.

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