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Eastern and Southern Africa, 12 October 2010: Global Handwashing Day to be celebrated across the region

NAIROBI, 12 October - For the third year running handwashing with soap will be celebrated and promoted in the Eastern and Southern Africa region (ESAR) on 15th October – Global Handwashing Day (GHD).

Handwashing with soap (HWWS) is among the most effective and inexpensive ways to prevent diarrhoeal diseases and pneumonia, which are the top two causes of child deaths in ESAR after neonatal deaths. If HWWS at critical times (after using the toilet, or cleaning up after a child, and before preparing or eating food) became an automatic behaviour performed in all homes, schools and communities, deaths from diarrhoea could be cut in half and deaths from acute respiratory infections by one quarter. Recent research has also shown that HWWS by birth attendants and mothers significantly increased newborn survival rate by up to 44 percent.

Despite this evidence, washing hands at critical moments is seldom practiced in the region. Research from Uganda found that despite high levels of knowledge of the importance of washing hands with soap after using the toilet, only 14 percent of adults were observed to do so. Similarly in Kenya, although 14 percent of primary caregivers were observed during a study to wash their hands at key times, only 5 percent used soap (despite 97 percent of households having access to soap).

In a Tanzanian schools study only 8 percent of schools had functioning HWWS facilities and only 1 percent had soap available. Similar results are also observed in Kenya (5 out of 100 schools surveyed had soap, but only 2 percent of children were observed to use it) and Malawi (19 percent of schools have HWWS facilities, but only 22 percent of these have soap available).

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-1245/Pirozzi
Children wash their hands before lunch at a public primary school in Soavinandriana District, Madagascar.

On 15th October UNICEF will work with key government and development partners across the region to bring handwashing with soap to the top of the hygiene agenda, and to have some fun whilst doing so.

Activities in ESAR will revolve around three main objectives - advocacy to raise awareness among the general public and key decision makers on the importance of HWWS; education focused on school age children to increase knowledge on why HWWS is important and to lay the foundations for healthy lifelong habits; and behaviour change particularly with an emphasis on taking HWWS beyond GHD.

Kenya will hold their national GHD celebration in Busia this year. Burundi will be holding various televised or radio-broadcast panel discussions lead by key ministries and UNICEF. Eritrea’s mass media campaign will be translated into all 9 local languages and they will also hold information sessions for media personnel. In advance of the day Ethiopia has been preparing the ground with information sessions for decision-makers at all levels of government, media and religious leaders.

The power of the private sector will also be harnessed. For example in Angola 5 million HWWS text messages will be sent free of charge to users across the country. Zimbabwe will actively involve public transport in disseminating messages.

In Uganda, aspiring athletes from the National Sanitation working group, private sector and media personalities will raise awareness of the importance of HWWS by participating in a Hashers run. Countries from Angola to Zambia will be broadcasting HWWS cartoons, jingles and announcements supported by a wide range of champions, including Pedrito do Bie, a young Angolan musician, the Wiggles, popular Australian children’s entertainers and UNICEF’s partner in raising awareness about HWWS, and not forgetting SOPO, an animated bar of soap who educates children about proper hygiene practices through an innovative cartoon series.

In Malawi, GHD will be “more than just a day” with the launch of a three-month intensive HWWS campaign aimed at Community-Based Child Care centres. Also in Uganda GHD will help build towards the longer term behavioural change programming with the official launch of the national Handwashing with Soap Campaign in 29 of the country's 111 districts. A national launch is set to take place next week with the possible presence of the First Lady of Uganda, who is also a National Champion for Sanitation.

Throughout the region, children will also take the centre stage in many of the GHD celebrations. In Ethiopia, school children will take part in an essays, poems, drawing and songs competition. In Madagascar, children will see the fun side of handwashing through the use of puppetry, demonstrations and music by local artists. And in Zambia, one million pamphlets featuring the beloved cartoon character “Sara” by children will be distributed.



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