Zimbabwe

Celebrating handwashing with soap in Zimbabwe

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2009/ Mutseyekwa
A young man holds out a poster explaining the steps for proper handwashing in Harare, Zimbabwe on Global Handwashing day.

By Tsitsi Singizi

HARARE, Zimbabwe, 21 October, 2009 – Approximately one million Zimbabweans lathered up their hands with soap and water last week as they joined in on the worldwide commemorations of Global Handwashing Day.

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The event follows this year's unprecedented cholera outbreak, which resulted in an estimated 4,000 deaths in the country.

Celebrations were held at Mbare musika – a market in Harare which was the epicenter of the recent cholera outbreak. The day included handwashing demonstrations for vendors at the market as well as school children around Mbare.

Zimbabweans synchronised handwashing with soap everywhere from schools to restaurants.

Children as agents of change

The focus of this year's Global Handwashing Day campaign was how school children can be effective agents for change.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2009/Mutseyekwa
UNICEF Representative Dr. Peter Salama demonstates handwashing with soap to a student at St. Peters Primary School in Zimbabwe as part of Global Handwashing day festivities.

Hundreds of community volunteers were trained to disseminate messages on the importance of handwashing.

Activities included the distribution of educational material to over 1,500,000 people with messages on cholera prevention and handwashing. Meanwhile, thousands of bars of soap and buckets with taps helped to provide handwashing facilities, particularly in primary schools.

Partnering for children's health

Present at the event were the Minister of Health and Child Welfare Dr. Henry Madzorera, UNICEF Representative Dr. Peter Salama, World Health Organisation Representative Dr. Custodia Mandlate and representatives from non-governmental organizations as well as the private sector.

In a collaboration between the Government of Zimbabwe, the UN and private sector, Zimbabwe cellular provider Econet Wireless join forces on hand washing with the global soap company Unilever .

Globally, diarrhoea caused by inadequate sanitation, poor hygiene and unsafe water claims the lives of an estimated 1.5 million children under the age of five every year, and in Zimbabwe 4,000 children die after suffering from diarrhoea every year. 

Soap is critical

While Zimbabweans religiously practice hand washing before meals, it is seldom with soap.

"Washing hands with soap is critical, especially as you handle food in the market. It is an inexpensive yet effective means of protection against diarrhoeal diseases," said Dr. Salama, addressing vendors.

As such, the main message to the country emphasized the need to wash hands with soap – especially before preparing food and after using the toilet – as one of the most effective and inexpensive ways of preventing diahrroeal diseases and acute respiratory infections.

Children are 'today's leaders'

The campaign recognised the importance of children in understanding good hygine and taking these practices back into their homes and communities. 

Speaking on the critical role school children could play the dissemination of handwashing messages, Dr. Salama said: "In spreading the messages of handwashing, children are not tomorrow's leaders but are today's leaders."

UNICEF and WHO also used the opportunity to launch the report, 'Diarrhoea: Why children are still dying and what can be done.' They urged the Government to ensure that a comprehensive plan for controlling cholera will be rolled out.

"The simple act of washing our hands properly with soap can prevent diseases like cholera and diarrhoea by 40 per cent. The money currently spent on hospitals bills should go towards items needed in the home," said Zimbabwe's Dr. Madzorera.


 

 

Video

20 September: UNICEF correspondent Natacha Ikoli reports on handwashing celebrations at the Mbare Musika market in Harare, Zimbabwe.
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