Clean hands is the recipe for good health

Hygiene standards were introduced in 27 rural schools of Azerbaijan.

Elena Ostapenko
A child washing his hands.
UNICEF Azerbaijan/Pirozzi/2004
30 September 2015

Everyone knows that clean hands are the recipe for good health. Hands are more than any other body part are populated with pathogenic germs reaching as far as several millions.

Washing hands before meal, after a toilet or games with animals, following working with soil and contact with raw products – is a basic measure to help protect from such dangerous diseases as flu, hepatitis, allergy, peptic disorders and viral diseases.

It is especially important to foster hygiene rules among children as they love to potter around the sand and grass, sail toy boats on the puddles with many microorganisms and pluck unwashed fruits before mom sees.

However, many parents defy the hygiene rules. Even if that leads to having a child getting used to you accustom a child to cleanliness it doesn’t always have a feasibility to wash hands when out of home.

Studies by UNICEF revealed that hygiene and sanitary conditions in many schools in Azerbaijan and primarily in rural regions do not meet the basic norms and standards. Many schools do not have clean flowing water and lavatories and those which do, are not in line with hygiene norms.

Other problems include insufficient number of lavatories in schools, often placed far from educational building; alongside soap deficiency in the toilets.

However, based on international norms children of junior and senior classes should not use the same toilet for ethical reasons in the first place, apart from the mere fact that that little ones may not reach out for handles and taps.

Nonexistence of hygiene and sanitary conditions in the schools is a serious problem in three regions of Azerbaijan – Agdash, Beylagan and Agjabedi. It was where a pilot project, supported by UNICEF and ADB, on introduction of hygiene norms were implemented in 27 schools under a slogan “Clean hands are healthy hands.”

UNICEF believes that in the schools with dirty water flowing from the tap and defied hygiene norms there is a higher risk of viral diseases among children and school personnel.

“When I send my child to school, I make sure he does not drink lots of tea, so there is less need to use the school toilet. In fact, toilets do not really function. Children are reluctant to use them due to conditions."

“Our school toilet is in awful condition. There is no water available. When I see children off to the school I always tell them not to go to the toilet there. Water is crucial.  Recently they found intestinal worms in one child. It’s all because of dirtiness. Due to the lack of normal sanitary conditions children often become ill and then lag behind with their studies,” confirms Shahla, the other parent from the same school.

A situation is same in the schools of other two pilot project regions.

Project on introduction of standards in the field of hygiene and sanitary furthered the improvement of the indicators as of the date of its start back in 2009 significantly. Project is a joint work by UNICEF, Asian Development Bank (ADB) and regional NGO “Local Governance Assistance” in association with the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health, regional executive power, local office of public company Azersu and the Embassy of Japan.

“Clean water and basic sanitary norms in the schools are extremely important for the healthy and complete development of a child.” 

Project was aimed to improve the access to clean and safe toilets and clean water and soap on the basis of the existing infrastructure with minimum costs for the lavatories re-equipment; as well  as to increase the awareness of schoolchildren and their parents about the importance of observing the hygiene rules for own health benefits.

Series of workshops in the schools and personal interviews were conducted in the framework of the project along with social activities amongst schoolchildren. Almost 12 thousand children were engaged in hygiene and sanitary discussions in Agdash, Beylagan and Agjabedi. Importance of washing hands with soap after visiting a toilet was key piece of information explained to the children and parents.

As a result of the project by June of the current year there was a 15.6% increase in the number of children washing hands with soap after visiting a toilet and prior to meal in the abovementioned regions amounting overall to 45.5% of the total number of schoolchildren. Based on UNICEF data it took only 8.06 USD of investments per a child to have that effect.

There was also 15% decrease in the number of children who do not wash hands if soap is unavailable amounting to 14.8% of overall number of children. Not particularly noticeable but some increase was also observed in the number of children who use a school toilet when necessary.

Investments in the amount of 3706 USD per school sufficed to increase the number of children attending the lessons on the importance of hygiene for health up to 21.6% amounting to 63.6% of the total number. Such lessons were either not practiced before in 59% of the cases in the schools of the above regions or practiced only once in a month in 31% of the cases.

A mechanism of public control was created apart from the outreach activities in 27 pilot schools. According to Vusal Mirzayev, the head of the NGO “Local Governance Assistance” Sanitation and hygiene clubs comprised of 9 persons (8 schoolchildren and one adult) were created in every school.

These groups were engaged in the schools and in the communities, Vusal Mirzayev said. Kids were explaining the importance of observing the hygiene rules for the benefit of own health by providing the relevant information and monitoring the compliance with requisite conditions. Members of the clubs can be identified by thematic shirts, caps and bracelets.

“Thanks to joint efforts we managed to mobilize the staff members of all the schools in three regions and spark their interest in hygiene in a short run and this in my view can be considered as a great success,” said a head of the NGO. “Schools’ authorities, parents and children themselves were engaged in activities and created a self-monitoring system by drawing the public attention to this particular problem,” he added.

Project was completed in June and the results of the project triggered the investors and namely the Embassy of Japan to fund its next stage – reconstruction of the lavatories in the schools No.2 and No.4 of the Beylagan region. Grant agreement for the implementation of the new project took place in August 18, 2015.

“Our activities in Azerbaijan are focused on the transport, urban infrastructure and effective use of the energy. We believe that infrastructure is the important component of the development and diversification,” said Olly Norojono, Country Director of ADB's Azerbaijan Resident Mission.

“Our activities in Azerbaijan are focused on the transport, urban infrastructure and effective use of the energy. We believe that infrastructure is the important component of the development and diversification” 

“Improvement of the water supply system and sanitation conditions provides 24 hours access to clean drinking water for the population. This contributes to better health in the communities,” added ADB representative.

In the context of joint efforts for the improvement of the sanitation conditions in the schools of Azerbaijan UNICEF will present the standards applied in 27 pilot schools to the consideration of the Ministry of Education to gradually introduce them in all the national schools by reference to specific local features and needs.