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At a glance: Panama

Panama launches national handwashing campaign to improve child health and hygiene

© UNICEF Panama/2010/Ostrander
A young girl in Los Andes II School, Panama City, learns about the importance of handwashing during the national campaign launched by UNICEF and Panama's Ministry of Health.

PANAMA CITY, Panama, 14 July 2010 – “Wash our hands, it´s time to wash our hands,” sang a group of second graders at Los Andes II school in Panama City’s San Miguelito district. While they chanted the popular tune, hundreds more children waved handmade banners for health officials who were present at their school to inaugurate a national handwashing campaign.

UNICEF and the Ministry of Health have launched the campaign to help Panamanian children learn the importance of handwashing and become agents of change in their families, schools and communities.

The handwashing campaign comes at a time when tens of thousands of people in this small Central American country have been diagnosed with influenza – most of them children, according to official statistics. In the short term, the campaign will help limit the spread of the current influenza outbreak in densely populated areas; in the longer term, it should contribute to community-led behaviour change that improves public health.

Football star promotes campaign

The face of the campaign is Jaime Penedo, a popular football goal-keeper who plays internationally in Guatemala and is well known by boys and girls throughout Panama. He will appear in national radio and TV spots advocating proper handwashing with soap.

© UNICEF Panama/2010/Ostrander
Young boys in Los Andes II School in Panama City , Panama, get involved in the country's national handwashing campaign.

“Penedo is a professional who has demonstrated that he is responsible and consistent, and can promote the values necessary for all to understand the importance of taking care of our health,” said Carolina Freire, Director of Health Promotion at the Ministry of Health.

The campaign comes as interest in football is at a peak as a result of the just-concluded 2010 FIFA World Cup.

In 42 elementary schools around San Miguelito – a densely populated urban area – health promoters are coaching teachers on the importance of handwashing to prevent diseases. The teachers, in turn, will explain this aspect of health and hygiene to students, who will be empowered to promote handwashing among their peers, family members and neighbours. To help them do so, the campaign is providing children with soap, colouring books, crayons, posters and stickers.

Development of good habits

“The main goal of the campaign is for children to develop good handwashing habits for themselves and their families,” said UNICEF Representative in Panama Una McCauley. “The children involved will have the responsibility to share their knowledge with their families and communities. This way, they participate in improving their own right to health and learn to participate responsibly in the overall promotion of their families' well being.”

Some 15,000 children between the ages of 4 and 14 will be directly involved in the campaign in San Miguelito in the coming weeks, and the initiative will be replicated across the country. The initiative reflects UNICEF’s role as a key strategic partner working on child health in Panama.



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