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Kenya, 19 October 2017: Little hands lead the way on Global Handwashing Day

© UNICEF Kenya/2017/Hinga
Children demonstrate proper handwashing with soap during the Global Handwashing Day celebrations in Kajiado County, Kenya.

By Andrew Hinga and Daisy Serem-Esinapwaka

ISINYA, KAJIADO, 19 OCTOBER 2017 – The 2017 Global Handwashing Day came at a time when Kenya is battling a persistent Cholera outbreak affecting 18 of its 47 counties this year. It was therefore an opportunity to reiterate the importance of handwashing with soap and water in order to prevent diseases and save lives.

But this year the message went beyond public health, to an issue that affects two million children under five years old in Kenya. Malnutrition. Far too many children are stunted which means that they are not reaching their full cognitive and physical capabilities simply because of poor nutrition.

So what is the link between malnutrition and handwashing? Studies have shown that feeding children a healthy balanced diet only addresses 35 per cent of the problem, the rest is solved through ‘nutrition sensitive’ issues such as water quality, sanitation and hygiene. Simply put, proper handwashing with soap or ash can go a long way in securing a healthy future for all children.

UNICEF joined the Ministry of Health and partners in celebrating the Global Handwashing Day in Isinya, Kajiado County, on 16 October 2017. The theme for the day was ‘Our Hands, Our Future’, reminding us that handwashing not only protects our health, but also helps build the future of children and their communities.

It was a colorful ceremony as children from neighboring schools converged for fun, games and music, all echoing the importance of hand washing with soap to help reduce diseases and stunting.

© UNICEF Kenya/2017/Hinga
Children's band matches through Kajiado town during the 2017 Global Handwashing Day celebrations.

Elizabeth Naserian, a class two pupil from Isinya Primary School, was among the hundreds of children in attendance. She braved the sweltering heat to play a part in creating awareness on the importance of handwashing. Together with her fellow pupils she demonstrated to the audience of over 1500 people proper handwashing with soap.

If everyone could follow the example set by the children it would contribute to a reduction in malnutrition, and significantly reduce the two leading causes of childhood mortality – acute respiratory infection and diarrhoeal disease.

“What better way to protect our children than to educate, mentor, coach and ensure that they make a habit of handwashing,” says UNICEF Kenya’s Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), Andrew Trevett. “This critical habit acts as an essential do-it-yourself vaccine that can prevent the transmission of a variety of germs and can have a significant impact on children’s health, including helping to reduce stunting.”

The 2014 Kenya Demographic Health Survey reveals that only 17 per cent of households practice handwashing with soap after using the toilet. Many homes, especially in rural areas, do not have handwashing facilities with water or soap. It is therefore crucial for all stakeholders to work together to support communities in making handwashing a habit.

As the celebrations in Isinya come to an end Elizabeth comes to say goodbye before going back to school. She promises to carry the message of handwashing back to her home, showing her friends, family and community how to do it right so as prevent diseases.

It may be celebrated for only one day in the year but the message of this lifesaving intervention must be promoted, supported and implemented to make handwashing an everyday habit for the wellbeing of every child.



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