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Cameroon: children fight waterborne diseases in school and in the community

© UNICEF Cameroon/2009/Zulfiqar
Boy washing hands at a water pint in a poor area of Douala in Cameroon.

15 October, marks the second annual Global Handwashing Day, which millions of children and adults will celebrate with special activities in over 80 countries.

Douala, Cameroon, 6 October 2009 - A group of school children quickly surrounds Sorel Fabiola Mbeutcha Yinkou, 12, as she rolls up her sleeves to prepare for a hand washing demonstration.

Sorel Fabiola starts rubbing her hands on a bar of soap ferociously next to a water tanker at the  Oyack group 1 primary school in Cameroon’s commercial capital, Douala.

"It‘s important to keep our hands clean, especially after using the toilet, before and after each meal and after playing outside," she said.

Sorel Fabiola was tasked to teach other pupils following the first ever global hand washing day in 2008.

A year later she continues to round up children in the playground at meal and breaktimes.

"This helps us avoid any germs that can make us sick," she adds.  She’s also encouraging her friends to pass on her hand washing techniques to relatives and friends at home.

An innovative initiative for handwashing at school
The Ministry of Basic Education and the Complexe Chimique Cameroon (CCC), a soap producing company has partnered with UNICEF to provide supplies in 300 schools across the country for the handwashing initiative. 

In order to step up efforts, CCC will also distribute hygiene exercise books as well as soap next year.

Diarrhea and cholera are among the main killer diseases for children under 5 in Cameroon.

Diarrhea kills 18,000 children between the ages of 0-59 months, according to UNICEF. 

About five in every 200 children (0-59 months) who contract diarrhea will die from it.

"Thanks to these facilities children who get their hands dirty in the mud can easily clean them and protect themselves from germs," headmaster,  Joseph Ngwe, 55, said. A total of 1.025 children (456 girls) have access to the washing points in the school.

Hygiene and sanitation is taught in schools as part of the national curriculum and facilities are badly needed in educational institutions in the country.

Less than 40 per cent of the 15,000 primary schools in the country have access to potable water and just over half have latrines.

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

By Raymond Mbouzeko



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