New Vision (Kampala)

11 June 2012

Uganda: 'Hand Washing Can Reduce Infant Mortality '

The commissioner rural water supply and sanitation, Eron Kabirize has asked head teaches to emphasize proper washing of hands saying, effective hand washing with soap can reduce infant mortality by 60 percent

The commissioner rural water supply and sanitation in the water and environment ministry said some of the leading causes of mortality among infants below five years were diarrhea and acute respiratory infections but the incidences could be reduced significantly by washing hands with soap.

"Statistics show that effective hand washing can reduce diarrhea among infants by up to 40% and acute respiratory infections by up to 30%."

"Parents and teachers need to know that after wiping a baby's buttocks, they need to wash their hands with soap thoroughly to avoid transferring of pathogens (germs that cause diseases)."

The commissioner said this during the launch of the hand washing campaign at the Grand Imperial Hotel. The campaign, targeting 210 primary schools in Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono, is expected to last 21 days during which teachers and pupils in these schools will be taken through drills of hand washing and its importance.

Julia Kyomuhangi, the assistant commissioner environmental health in the health ministry said, washing of hands is an essential do it yourself vaccine but many people do not value it.

"They go to toilets hurrying as if someone was running after them. They do not wash their hands. Those who do, just use water. Washing hands with just water, you are doing nothing. You are just wetting your hands."

"When you wash your hands, you use soap, you rub your hands together, turn them and wash them thoroughly, you even check below the finger nails in case there is dirt left."

Kyomuhangi said the challenge was even bigger when it came to schools. "The sanitation in most of our schools is pathetic."

The head teacher Greenhill Academy Stephen Mwesigwa said teachers face challenges like lack of enough facilities: toilet paper, sanitary pads for the girls, soap, and water tanks. The fact that many parents ignore their role of teaching children about sanitation too does not help.

However, Kyomuhangi said since children spend most of their time at school, teachers have to create an enabling environment for them so they know the importance of proper sanitation and hygiene.

"You can enact 'small rules' to punish pupils who don't wash their hands, create hand washing clubs, and make sure children feel free while learning about the washing of hands," she said.

Uniliver distributed Lifebouy soap to the head teachers to help kick start the project.

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