Global Hand Washing DayWhy so much fuss about hand washing with soap?
Between 5-10% of all children under the age of five living in poor countries develop pneumonia. In Pakistan alone more than 250,000 children die due to diarrhoea-related diseases every year. According to Ministry of Environment, Government of Pakistan, the total health plus economic costs of work days lost for treating water borne diseases exceeds Rs. 100 billion annually, and over 40% of the hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from water-borne diseases.
In Pakistan, projected population growth for the next 10 years is estimated to increase by 40% to 250 million from the current 180 million. Hence the demand potential for safe drinking water, improved hygiene and adequate sanitation facilities will also dramatically increase manifold, thus overburdening the frail health infrastructure and the meagre budget allocated to health. There is a vital and close link between water-borne diseases and lack of safe drinking water, hygiene and sanitation. These three vital pillars of good health that need an integrated strategy. Not washing hands at critical times particularly before eating and after using the toilet, can lead to diarrhoea-related infections, typhoid, cholera, gastroenteritis, and also to Hepatitis A and E.
Regular hand washing with soap reduces acute respiratory infections, pneumonia, and diarrhoea-related diseases in children under five years of age by over 50%, according to a 2004 CMC Study published in JAMA Karachi.1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water and 2.6 billion people lack adequate sanitation according to Fresh Water Action Network, South Asia.The practice of hand washing with soap is abysmally low globally, ranging between zero to 34% at critical times [before eating and after using toilet]. Pakistan is tragically on the lower end of the scale despite having some of the best soap brands in the world being manufacturerd locally.
Global Hand Washing Day [GHD] is dedicated to raising awareness of hand washing with soap as a key approach to disease prevention that can contribute to a significant reduction in child morbidity and mortality by more than 50%, thus dramatically saving billions in terms of health and economic costs each year. GHD was first celebrated on October 15, 2008 when the United Nations General Assembly designated the year 2008 as the International Year of Sanitation. The theme of hand washing with soap is focused on message to schoolchildren wash their hands with soap regularly.
More than 200 million children, parents, teachers and NGO and government workers in over 70 countries will be celebrating the fourth Global hand Washing Day [GHD] on October 15, 2011. Initiated by the Global Public-Private Partnership for Hand Washing with Soap, GHD is endorsed by the a wide array of government, international institutions, society organizations ,such as CDC, UNICEF, USAID-HIP, AED, World Bank-WSP, NGOs, P&G, Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive and other private sector companies and NGOs around the globe. Practice of hand washing with soap in Pakistan is alarmingly low in the rural areas. In a District-Based Multiple Cluster Survey of South Punjab done with the collaboration of UNICEF, it was found that in Bhakkar District more than 56% of the population did not wash their hands with soap. In Mianwali District, over 42% of the population did not wash their hands with soap at critical times. In Pakpattan District more than one-third of the population did not practice hand washing with soap. It is more a question of social behaviour rather than the price of soap.
It is interesting to note that there is a strong and positive correlation between not washing hands with soaps and the incidence of diarrhoea. For example, in Dera Ghazi Khan where the more than 36% of the population did not wash hands with soap, it was found that more than 52% of the children under five were suffering from diarrheal infections. In rural Punjab, the same study found that about 24% of the children under the age of five were suffering from different episodes of diarrhoea. The story of urban Punjab is not pleasing either. More than 21% of the children under five were found to be suffering with different diarrheal infections.
In Sindh, the number of children under five, suffering from gastroenteritis and other diarrheal infections was found significantly higher in flood disaster areas where drinking water was highly contaminated. In an earlier study it was found that more than 19% of the children in rural Sindh were suffering from different types of diarrheal infections attributable to lack of hand washing with soap and contaminated water.
Global Hand Washing Day 2011 will revolve around activities in playgrounds, classrooms, community spaces and public places to drive the hands washing with soap campaign to trigger a behaviour change in children on a massive scale. In Pakistan only a few multinational companies, such as Unilever and P&G, have adopted the social marketing approach and have run short but effective educative animated cartoon commercials and school-based campaigns to communicate the message of hand washing with soap to school children to wash their hands with soap. Unfortunately, the majority of the soap manufacturers are still focused on beauty and skincare as the unique selling proposition in their marketing strategy, thus being strategically blind to a much bigger and lucrative rural market segment that does not wash hands with soap.