Handwashing: A recipe for good health

Handwashing with soap to prevent diseases and save lives

Joy Wanja Muraya
Washing hands at Kasina Primary School
15 October 2021

It’s a perfect day to get their hands dirty. On this last day of first term, pupils at Kasina Primary school, in eastern Kenya, are enjoying playing in the sand, running the dusty grains through their fingers.

A few of the girls and boys break away to use the toilets located nearby. The brightly coloured walls of the boys’ and girls’ washrooms have messages written on them reminding the pupils to wash their hands.

They make a beeline for the taps and each takes about three minutes each to wash their hands before they return to the sandpit.

School president Daniel Mutavania, 15, says he always takes time to remind his peers, and especially those in the lower classes, about the importance of handwashing.

“One of the most effective ways to stop the spread of germs among children is handwashing with soap and water,” says Daniel.

According to the World Health Organisation, regular handwashing can reduce diarrhoeal-associated diseases by up to 50 per cent. Kasina is one of the 97 schools supported by UNICEF through funding provided by Japan.

Phoebe Nzambi, 15, environment minister on the school government, says clean hands are a recipe for good health, as she demonstrates the steps of good handwashing.

“Handwashing with running water and step is the first step towards preventing diseases that make us sick and keep us away from school,” says Phoebe.

“But sometimes we forget to wash our hands at important times such as after using the toilet, before and after eating, and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose,” she says.

Kasina Primary School

As the world marks the Global Handwashing Day, these young leaders are  emphasising the message that handwashing with soap is an easy, effective, and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives.

Themed, ‘Our Future is at Hand – Let’s Move Forward Together,’ in 2021 the emphasis is on working together to scale up hand hygiene.

Handwashing is also a key tool to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 3 to ensure health and well-being for all which includes commitment to end epidemics of communicable diseases by 2030.

Kasina primary school deputy principal Mutemi Muisyo appreciates the role of health champions like Daniel and Phoebe.

Pupils at Kasina Primary School recite a poem
Pupils at Kasina Primary School recite a poem on the importance of handwashing

“Children are agents of change,” says Muisyo. “And they tend to pay more attention and interact more affectively with advice that come from their peers,” he said.

According to Mr Muisyo, Kasina has about 30 health champions who have been trained on spreading health promotion messages, which they share in health clubs, in class and during playtime.

“Handwashing plays a critical role in keeping everyone healthy, but it also ensures children stay in school. It also helps create a safe environment that is conducive for learning.”.

Justina Pereira, the WASH focal person at the county’s Education Department, says handwashing reduces disease, and that the value of clean hands cannot be ignored.

“Learning how to wash hands is an important component of our work in the community, including in schools where we train teachers, who in turn share lessons with the girls and boys “ says Justina.

She said the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the importance of handwashing for reducing the spread of disease and protecting health.


Justina Pereira
Justina Pereira, the WASH focal person at the county’s Education Department

“In the last 18 months, we reinforced handwashing at every opportunity. Now, we all need to maintain this momentum of handwashing with running water and soap even beyond the pandemic,” Justina added.

Mahboob Ahmed Bajwa, UNICEF Kenya’s WASH chief, says safe WASH facilities and good hygiene practices not only keep children survive and thrive, but also give them a healthier start in life.

“Children play critical roles in promoting sanitation and hygiene, including awareness raising, disseminating information and influencing their parents to use handwashing facilities.

He said UNICEF has been supporting Kitui County through constructing gender sensitive and disable friendly WASH facilities and behavior change for hygiene practice.

By Joy Wanja Muraya