By Shane Powell
VIENTIANE, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, 25 October 2011 – In a crowded courtyard, rows of children lather their hands, scrubbing in unison and reciting the steps to proper handwashing. The activity, punctuated by peals of laughter, is part of a day-long event celebrating the fourth annual Global Handwashing Day.
|UNICEF correspondent Rachel O’Brien reports on the Global Handwashing Day celebrations in Vientiane, Lao PDR. Watch in RealPlayer|
Over 2,000 children took part in the 15 October event, which centred on the importance of handwashing and cleanliness to prevent disease. This year’s theme, ‘more than just a day’, emphasizes the importance of handwashing as a routine, everyday – yet life-saving – practice.
Simple and life-saving
Diarrhoeal disease and acute respiratory infections are leading causes of death among children under age five. But, experts say, handwashing with soap can cut diarrhoea by almost 50 per cent and respiratory infections by nearly 25 per cent. It is a simple, affordable intervention that can save millions of lives around the world – but it is not practiced regularly enough.
“Each year diarrhoeal diseases and acute respiratory infections are responsible for the deaths of thousands of children under the age of five,” said Tim Schaffter, UNICEF Representative in Lao PDR. “We have to increase our efforts to ensure the messages and resources are widely available to children throughout the country.”
Preventable diseases also jeopardize children’s educations.
|© UNICEF Lao PDR/2011/Hodgson|
|A girl in Vientiane takes part in handwashing activities during Global Handwashing Day.|
“Illnesses are one of the main reasons that children either miss classes or drop out of school,” said Deputy Minister of Education and Sports Lytou Bouapao. “But many of these illnesses are preventable by the simple act of routine handwashing.”
Spreading the world
The children in Vientiane giggle as they bend to rinse their hands in buckets of clean water. Nearby, other children take part in a handwashing competition, encouraged by the clapping and cheers of their friends. Still others draw pictures or sing songs about cleanliness.
They are among more than 200 million people involved in similar celebrations in over 100 countries around the world, all of it teaching children and adults alike the importance of washing with soap and water at critical times – such as after using the toilet and before handling food.
Messages about proper handwashing habits were also spread through thousands of Lao schools, helping students around the country safeguard their health and futures.