Global Handwashing Day

By Drum Digital
26 October 2015

Growing up in the dusty informal settlement of Water Works in Protea Glen, Soweto, Tselane Lekgela (12) knows how to appreciate having water at school because it is scarce in her community.

Like other children in her neighbourhood, she enjoys playing outside in the streets or communal park rather than being confined in the small shack which she shares with her mother and five siblings.

But, she says the streets are riddled with litter and are not a clean and safe environment for children to play in.

“There are many dirty things that I’ve touched while playing outside like diapers, left over food and rubbish that people throw away without using a dustbin,” she says, “I have to wash my hands five times a day so that I don’t become sick.”

She says there are few taps in her community and her family’s morning routine to wash and get ready for their activities for the day can be tedious.

“We have to wake up at 5am in the morning so that everyone gets a chance to wash,” she says, “we don’t have a bath so we have to share a container that we all have to wash in.”

Tselane is a grade 6 learner at Faranani Primary School, and she says that’s where she has been taught about good hygiene.

GHD_1 -Learners from Faranani and Basani Primary Schools in Soweto celebrate Global Handwashing Day 2015 with Lifebuoy

“I was taught to wash my hands before and after I eat, after I finish playing and after I use the toilet,” she says.

Last week her school celebrated Global Handwashing day on the 15th of October, a campaign that was established in 2008 by the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing.

On the first handwashing day, over 120 million children around the world washed their hands in soap in more than 70 countries.

The aim is to encourage people to wash their hands with soap at critical times to encourage good hygiene and prevent illness.

At Faranai Primary School, the day was celebrated with Dr Myriam Sidibe, Unilever Hygiene and Nutrition Social Mission Director for Africa and co-founder of the initiative.

A learner from Faranani Primary School and Myriam Sidibe Unilever Hygiene and Nutrition Social Missions Director for Africa pose for Global Handwashing Day 2015

In partnership with Lifebuoy, one of the world’s leading health soap, they washed over 2000 hands at the school.

Learners from Faranani Primary School in Soweto celebrate Global Handwashing Day 2015

“We are impressed with the great strides Lifebuoy has made since 2012 to reach its goal of 1 billion people by 2020 with its hygiene initiatives which has become the world’s largest behaviour change programme to date and has so far reached over 250 million people globally and 8 million locally,” she says.

Over the years, the campaign has been used to educate underprivileged communities that handwashing with soap is one of the most effective and low cost ways to prevent infections.

“Every year, 1.7 million children under the age of 5 die from infections such as diarrhoea and pneumonia and South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa account for 81% of all child deaths,” she adds.

Dr Sidibe believes governments can prevent illnesses such as diarrhoea and pneumonia and make rapid progress towards reducing child mortality by partnering in handwashing behaviour change programmes.

“Unilever is calling on governments in Africa and South Asia to implement policies to promote the lifesaving benefits of handwashing with soap,” she says, “particularly for birth attendants and new mothers, and strengthen these efforts by working in partnership with the private sector.”

The event was also attended by Aneliswa Cele, Acting Chief Director of Environmental and Port Health Services at the Department of health.

“In South Africa, maternal, perinatal and under-5 mortality remain high and diarrhoeal diseases are a huge public health problem,” she says, “diarrhoea accounts for 3.1% of total deaths and is rated the 8th largest cause of death.”

“Children who are affected by diarrhoeal diseases become susceptible to developing other related diseases, such as respiratory diseases, malnutrition, growth retardation, and impairments of cognitive development,” she adds.

Cele says people who wash their hands can stop the cycle of spreading diseases and can help lessen the burden on public health facilities.

In support of the initiative, health minister Aron Motsoaledi officially declared October as National Handwashing month.

Thato Twala (13) a grade 7 learner at Faranai Primary School says she has learnt a great deal in good hygiene through the initiative and was excited to share the news with her family.

“They taught us that to wash our hands properly we have to go palm to palm, hand on top of the other hand and thumb over the thumb,” she says, “I also have to rinse thoroughly and wipe my hands with a dry towel.”

School principal Mzwabantu Madikane says they adhere to the policies of safety and good hygiene, set by the Department of Basic Education.

“This initiative is not a once-off thing, each class has a basin for learners to wash their hands and we have over 8 toilet units at the school, “ he says, “It’s important for children to learn about good hygiene because a clean environment is also a healthy one.”

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