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Public schools take the lead in promoting proper hygiene practices

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Anja Baron reports on how public elementary schools are taking the lead in promoting proper hygiene practices in the Philippines.

GUIMARAS ISLAND, Philippines, 12 October 2012 – Schoolchildren in this small, hilly province in central Philippines may just have a new favourite ‘subject’ – hand-washing and tooth-brushing – which is now included in their daily curriculum. In recent years, teaching elementary school children the habits of washing their hands with soap and brushing their teeth with fluoride has been an ongoing campaign of the Philippine Department of Education.

Through its Essential Health Care Programme (EHCP), supported by UNICEF, the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), local NGO Fit for School and private sector partner Procter & Gamble, the Department of Education promotes proper hand-washing and tooth-brushing, as well as deworming, among kindergarten and elementary school children.  UNICEF and Procter & Gamble's participation in the programme has added more than 3,000 schools to the initial reach of the programme.  

Hygiene habits are daily routine

Students in East Valencia Elementary School in Guimaras province, central Philippines, at a scheduled hand-washing and tooth-brushing break. © UNICEF Philippines/2012/Uy

At 10:30 a.m., students at Piña Elementary School file towards recently built washing troughs outside their classrooms. They stand up to 10 abreast and chant to the songs ‘Ten little children’ and ‘Happy birthday’ to pace their tooth-brushing and hand-washing. The children smile and giggle.  But the activity is more than fun. Lifelong personal hygiene habits essential to protecting against infection and disease are being instilled. Already, EHCP has resulted in significant improvements in the children’s health and academic performance.  

Hygiene is essential to good health

“Regular hand-washing and tooth-brushing are the simplest and cheapest ways to prevent diseases among our children,” says UNICEF Philippines WASH specialist Jon Villaseñor. “For just Php25, or roughly 50 U.S. cents – the cost of supplying soap, toothpaste and two deworming tablets – one Filipino child can already be supported through one year of the programme,” he adds.   Diseases such as diarrhoea can largely be prevented by hand-washing with soap at critical times of day, such as before eating and after using the toilet. In fact, studies show that introducing regular hand-washing with soap in primary schools and day care centres can help reduce the incidence of diarrhoea by an average of 30 per cent.  

Regular tooth-brushing can prevent dental caries, a common cause of absenteeism among Philippine schoolchildren. A Fit For School study on the EHCP programme showed that, when properly implemented, tooth-brushing can result in reductions of up to 27 per cent in absenteeism, 47 per cent in intestinal worm infection and 38 per cent in oral infection. Children participating in the programme are more likely to attend school, stay in school and finish school.  

Implementing EHCP in Guimaras

Tippy-tap hand-washing station at Dolores Elementary School, Guimaras. This system is a way to ensure that schools can hold group hand-washing without piped-in running water. © UNICEF Philippines/2012/Uy

Within a year of introduction, all 97 public elementary schools in Guimaras province were adopting the programme. As implementing agency, the Department of Education provided ground personnel to supervise the programme. Municipal councils were asked to provide supplementary funding. The Department of Health supplied deworming tablets. Schools were encouraged to build the water and sanitation facilities they could afford. Local communities, civic groups and parents were asked to pitch in with monetary or material contributions or to volunteer their services.  

A testament to the success and popularity of the programme is that several of the schools have been able to upgrade their washstands from simple, less durable configurations into more permanent facilities.  

On October 15, the schoolchildren of Guimaras will be joining millions of other children across the Philippines and around the world in celebrating Global Hand Washing Day. And this year, with the programme functioning in all elementary schools in the province, they really have something to celebrate.



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