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Promoting handwashing in schools to prevent disease in Cameroon

© UNICEF Cameroon/2009/Zulfiqar
Sorel Fabiola Mbeutcha Yinkou, 12, demonstrates proper handwashing to her schoolmates at a water point in Douala, Cameroon.

DOUALA, Cameroon, 15 October 2009 – The Ministry of Basic Education and soap producer Complexe Chimique Camerounais (CCC) have partnered with UNICEF to provide hygiene supplies to 300 schools across the country.

Such efforts will be ongoing. CCC plans to distribute hygiene exercise books and soap to schoolchildren next year.

The initiative in Cameroon is part of the second annual Global Handwashing Day, which children and adults in over 80 countries are marking today. Handwashing with soap is an effective way to prevent the spread of diseases and illnesses such as diarrhoea, pneumonia and the H1N1 influenza virus. It is one of the most affordable and effective interventions to prevent needless deaths of young children.

Demonstrating proper hygiene
One recipient of the hygiene supplies from CCC is the Oyack Group One Primary School in Cameroon’s commercial capital, Douala. It was there that a group of schoolchildren recently gathered around Sorel Fabiola Mbeutcha Yinkou, 12, as she rolled up her sleeves to prepare for a handwashing demonstration.

Sorel Fabiola was tasked with teaching handwashing to her fellow pupils after the first Global Handwashing Day last year. Ever since, she has continued to round up children in the playground, or at meal and break times, to demonstrate proper hygiene.

“It‘s important to keep our hands clean, especially after using the toilet, before and after each meal and after playing outside,” she said. “This helps us avoid any germs that can make us sick.”

Sorel Fabiola is also encouraging her friends to pass on her handwashing techniques to relatives and friends at home.

Handwashing to prevent disease
In Cameroon, the simple act of handwashing can be a life-saver. Diarrhoeal diseases cause 17 per cent of all deaths of children under the age of five here. Worldwide, diarrhoea kills an estimated 1.5 million children under five each year – more than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.”

© UNICEF Cameroon/2009/Zulfiqar
A boy washes his hands at a water point in Douala.

And as a result of the handwashing promotion efforts in Cameroon, the 456 girls at the Oyack School now have access to water points where they can wash up safely.

“Thanks to these facilities, children who get their hands dirty in the mud can easily clean them and protect themselves from germs,” said the school’s headmaster, Joseph Ngwe.

‘A model we hope to replicate’
Hygiene and sanitation are now being taught in all of Cameroon’s schools as part of the national curriculum. But proper washing facilities are still badly needed in many educational institutions. Less than 40 per cent of the country’s 15,000 primary schools have access to potable water, and just over half have latrines.

Global Handwashing Day projects and initiatives aim to bring greater access to water and sanitation facilities in schools throughout Cameroon.

“This is a good example of an innovative initiative – government, private sector and UNICEF joining hands to support a common cause,” said UNICEF Cameroon Education Chief Dr. Vijitha M. Eyango. “It’s a model we hope to replicate in other schools in the country.”



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