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Clean hands save lives: Global Handwashing Day 2011 in Pakistan

Islamabad, 13 October 2011 – Millions of people in Pakistan and around the world are marking Global Handwashing Day, which aims to increase awareness and understanding of the importance of handwashing with soap as an effective and affordable way to prevent disease. This message is particularly vital for the 5.4 million people affected by the current monsoon flood emergency, many of whom are children at increased risk of contracting diseases like diarrhoea.

A seminar in the capital tomorrow (14 October) will bring together 300 school children and teachers from Islamabad and Rawalpindi, along with representatives from Government, UN agencies, non-governmental organisations, civil society and academia to stress the significance of handwashing with the theme ‘Clean Hands Save Lives’. Similar events will be held in other parts of the country.

In addition, handwashing awareness activities and materials are expected to reach half a million flood-displaced children and UNICEF will distribute handwashing promotional materials to one million Pakistan school children.

In Pakistan, close to 116,000 children under the age of five die each year as a result of diarrhoea. Children also suffer disproportionately from sickness related to diarrhoeal disease, with almost 25 million cases reported annually in Pakistan alone. This situation is being made worse by the monsoon floods emergency. Globally, more than two million children under five die every year from diarrhoea and pneumonia-related illnesses.

“Washing hands with soap is critical,” says Haider W. Yaqub, Country Director of Plan Internatinal, Pakistan. “It is an inexpensive yet effective means of protection against diarrhoeal diseases and one of the most effective and affordable health interventions. Handwashing with soap represents a cornerstone of public health and can be considered an affordable, accessible “do-it-yourself” protection against disease.”

“The simple act of washing hands with soap at critical times, such as after using the toilet and before handling food, is a key cost effective and lifesaving action,” says Karen Allen, Deputy Representative of UNICEF Pakistan.

“For flood-affected children and families, many of whom are displaced and living in terrible conditions, good hygiene practices such as handwashing with soap are essential to avoid disease,” says Ms Allen. UNICEF and partners are reaching flood-displaced populations with hygiene kits, including soap, along with safe water supplies and hygiene promotion. “In general, research has shown that handwashing with soap can reduce the incidence of diarrhoea among children under five by almost 50 per cent, and reduce Acute Respiratory Infections by nearly 25 per cent. Handwashing with soap can provide protection from polio and other diseases,” says Ms Allen.

The Islamabad event aims to engage school children as effective agents for change, highlighting their role in both understanding good hygiene and taking these practices back into their homes and communities. A new UNICEF handwashing cartoon character, “SABU”, will be launched and participants will agree to a declaration emphasizing the importance of handwashing and the widespread dissemination of handwashing messages.



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