In celebration of the “Global Handwashing Day”, this year theme is ‘Clean hands – A recipe for health’. The theme focuses on the links between handwashing and food, including food hygiene and nutrition. Handwashing is an important part of keeping food safe, preventing diseases, and helping children grow strong. Throughout the day, germs are accumulated on our hands as we come in contact with surfaces, people and object. Infection can take place when these same infected hands are used to touch the eyes, nose or mouth. Although it’s impossible to keep your hands germ-free, washing your hands frequently can help limit the transfer of bacteria, viruses and other microbes.
As simple as hand washing is, it has a lot of benefits; one of which is the prevention of diarrhea especially in children. Diarrhea disease remains one of the leading cause of mortality and morbidity of children in Sub-Saharan Africa, where unique geographic, economic, political, socio-cultural, and personal factors interact to create distinctive continuing challenges to its prevention and control.
Diarrhea is the second biggest killer of children in Nigeria after malaria; responsible for about 16% of child’s death every year. According to the United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF), “the diarrhea prevalence rate in Nigeria is 18.8 percent and is one of the worst in sub-Sahara Africa and above the average of 16 percent. Diarrhea accounts for over 16 per cent of child deaths in Nigeria and an estimated 150,000 deaths mainly among children under five occur yearly. Incidence of diarrhea is highest in the first two years of life and declines as a child grows older. Diarrhea disease mostly affects children under two years of age, and may be life-threatening, particularly in those who are malnourished or have impaired immunity.
Diarrhea is usually a symptom of an infection in the intestinal tract, which can be caused by a variety of bacterial, viral and parasitic organisms. The infection is spread through contaminated food or drinking-water, or from person-to-person as a result of poor hygiene. The causative pathogens of diarrhea are found in fecal matter and are transmitted from the stool of one individual to the mouth of another. These pathogens may be spread through contaminated water, food, hands, eating and drinking utensils, flies, and dirt under fingernails. Aside causing significant mortality and morbidity, diarrhea is also a leading cause of malnutrition in children under-five years old due to its association with poor nutrient absorption and appetite loss.
Diarrhea is an immediate health threat to children and it also has long-term negative effects on the country socio-economic development because of its impact on the children lives. The long-term effects include growth shortfalls, substantially impaired physical fitness, diminished cognitive capacity and delayed achievement at school. Indirectly, diarrhea has adverse effect on health, educational performance and school attendance of these children. Thus it can be stated that diarrhea affects key areas of development such as heath, economy and education.
In recent report from WaterAid Nigeria, “60,000 children below the age of five years still die every year in Nigeria, owing to diarrhea infections”. That is linked to dirty water, poor toilets and poor hygiene. According to the Communications and Media Manager of WaterAid Nigeria, Miss Oluseyi Abdulmalik, “washing hands with soap and water reduces cases of diarrhea by almost 50 percent, yet on average, around the world only 19 per cent of people wash hands with soap after defecation”.
There are a lot of scientific evidences showing the significance of hand washing at critical moments to reduction in diarrhea. Critical moments of hand washing with soap include; before cooking or preparing food, before eating, and before feeding someone (including breastfeeding). Caregivers should wash their own hands at all critical times, and model or enforce good handwashing behavior for children. Caregivers include parents, siblings, other relatives, school or daycare professionals, and others.