By Kulule Mekonnen
Hundreds of people marked Global Hand Washing Day with a colourful celebration at Garachatu School in Kimbibit woreda, Oromia region.
The region has been celebrating Global Hand Washing day since 2008, which was International Year of Sanitation.
Community members travelled to the event on foot and on horseback, wearing colourful traditional clothes to welcome government officials and invited guests to the celebrations.
The event is marked in many countries every year to underline the importance of handwashing in the prevention of common but potentially lethal diseases such as diarrohea, pneumonia, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Ebola and others.
The event at Garatchu School included the reading of poems by students, songs and performances, focusing on the importance of handwashing.
Dr Zelalem Habtamu, Deputy Head of the Oromia Regional Health Bureau, said: “We believe that we could prevent over 60 % of communicable diseases by implementing proper environmental health interventions. This is why we focus on advocating proper hand washing practices at critical times.’’
Oromia has made solid progress in improving hygiene, deploying 13,000 health extension workers and 4.5 million health development armies. These are small groups of women that meet regularly to discuss and solve issues relating to public health, socio-economic, environmental and economic concerns.
Dr. Zelalem added: “We are celebrating this year’s GHD in Garachatu School, with the school community and their families, with the intention of reaching every family, as we believe that students could carry on the positive hand washing behaviours learnt at schools with their families and their neighbourhood.”
Hand washing with soap removes germs from hands, preventing the transmission of infections when people touch their eyes, nose or mouth. It can also prevent germs getting into food and drink, as often happens when they are prepared by people with unclean hands. These germs can then multiply, risking the spread of infection to more people.
Germs from unwashed hands can also be transferred to objects like handrails, table tops or toys and spread easily.
Removing germs through proper hand washing helps prevent diarrhoea and respiratory infections and may also help prevent skin and eye infections.
Research shows that community hand washing education has a number of hygiene benefits. It reduces cases of diarrhoea by 31 percent, diarrheic illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58 percent and respiratory illnesses, such as colds, in the general population by 21 percent.
Figures released recently by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation show that in 2013 more than 340,000 children under five – almost 1,000 a day – died from diarrheic diseases due to lack of safe water, sanitation and basic hygiene. As the Ebola response takes its toll on the health services in the affected countries, the practice of hand washing is even more important to prevent these common diseases.
UNICEF works with regional government and non-governmental organisations to improve access to safe drinking water, sanitation and healthy environments and better hygiene practices.
It also focuses on capacity building to eliminate open defecation and improve hand-washing facilities in schools and health centres, focusing on the needs of girls.
W/ro Zewuditu Areda, Head of the North Shewa Zonal Health Department, said: “Proper hand washing prevents disease and saves lives, hence hands should be properly washed.”
The event ended with a demonstration of 10 steps of proper hand washing by Belay Techane, a Kimbibit Woreda Health Worker. The steps include:
- First hand should be rinsed and wet
- Apply soap and thoroughly scrub hands and forearms up to elbow. Give special attention to scrubbing your nails and the space between your fingers
- Rinse with generous amount of clean water flowing
- Air-dry with your hands up and elbows facing the ground, so that water drips away from your hands and fingers
- After the demonstration, all participants of the day practiced proper hand washing using soap as demonstrated by the health worker.