Attention to running water and soap needed in 30% of schools in Viet Nam before children can return
Ha Noi, Viet Nam, 5th May, 2020 – Will children herald a positive change in hand washing behavior? That is the hope that UNICEF has as it celebrates today with Viet Nam world Hand Hygiene Day. What will it take for that hope to become reality? Two things: that people of all ages across Viet Nam adopt for life, the life-saving hand washing behaviours that have been shared, sung about and that are now being reinforced in schools. And secondly, that all children in all schools have access to running water and soap.
Hand Hygiene Day falls as Viet Nam is reaching an important milestone with the majority of students across the country returning to school in a safe and phased approach that meets international standards after months of preventive closure to contain the spread of COVID-19. As schools reopen with enhanced measures for safety of students and teachers, the Ministry of Education is working with UNICEF and others to highlight the challenges faced in around 30 per cent of schools in Viet Nam that lack running water and other safe hygiene and sanitation measures, according to official data by the Ministry of Education and Training. For children of these schools to return, the Ministry is clear that running water and soap is a priority.
In such a heightened climate for hygiene, this means reaching approximately 6.4 million students, providing access to clean water and soap or ensuring a temporary supply of hand sanitizer for all children, while more sustainable measures are introduced. “Unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and lack of hygiene not only affect the health, safety, and quality of life of children, but it also affects their learning. Providing better water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools not only reduces the spread of hygiene-related diseases like COVID-19; not only reduces the risk of parasite infections; it also helps to curb the number of schools days missed every year due to diarrhea. In particular it protects girls’ right to education as girls are reluctant to continue their schooling when toilets and washing facilities are not private, not safe, not clean, or simply not available. Rather than an emergency measure at times of crisis – it must be a normal expectation for all children that schools will now have a budget line that ensures they are never short of the lifesaving soap”, said Rana Flowers, UNICEF Representative to Viet Nam.
UNICEF and a range of partners are responding to the situation and will continue to distribute in the coming weeks essential supplies to reach approximately 500,000 people, including 300,000 students in schools. UNICEF and partners will distribute soap, hand sanitizer and ceramic water filters to schools, commune health centers and communities in Lao Cai, Dien Bien, Gia Lai, Kon Tum, Ninh Thuan, Ben Tre, Soc Trang provinces. These supplies will come with targeted messages and information on personal hygiene and improved sanitation practices and the information will be available in ethnic minority languages.
But additional support is needed to reach all children in need and to provide emergency safe water systems to the 30 per cent of schools that are not covered with running water, improved latrines and sanitation facilities and large-scale provision of soap and hand sanitizers for all students. Long-term plans include increasing budget lines for capital improvements, operation and maintenance of facilities, and recurrent costs such as purchases of soap and materials for personal hygiene. An immediate response is needed in the coming weeks but steady progress is key to establishing sustainable, at scale programmes for water, sanitation and hygiene in schools.
UNICEF remains committed to ensuring that every child has the right to be in a school that offers safe water, healthy sanitation and hygiene education. It appeals to decision-makers, development partners and key stakeholders, including businesses, to urgently increase investment for water, sanitation and hygiene in schools, with the participation of communities, civil society, parents, students and children themselves.
UNICEF will continue to support the Government of Viet Nam to bring water, sanitation and hygiene programmes at scale in schools. Joint efforts involving multiple stakeholders in response to the COVID-19 crisis can address immediate needs of students returning to school this month, while also contributing to address long-term needs by reaching more schools and improving facilities and hygiene practices, especially in the most vulnerable and hard to reach areas. “This is the moment to create the change we seek for all schools. As we recover, rebound and reimagine a world more fit for children after COVID 19 – I hope you will join us in taking the next steps to sustainable change in schools,” added Ms. Flowers.
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UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF East Asia & Pacific and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org/eap