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Global Handwashing campaign kickstarts

Oct 15, 2008

Millions of children in South Asia will wash their hands today, the first ever Global Hand Washing Day. With this simple act, the UNICEF campaign hopes to promote and spread awareness on safe sanitation practices among children through songs, mobile messages and television shows.

Kathmandu / New Delhi: In what is thought to be the biggest ever exercise of its kind, more than 120 million children across South Asia will wash their hands with soap at the same time, in the same way to mark Global Hand Washing Day in the International Year of Sanitation.

From Kabul to Karachi, Kathmandu to Kerala and Colombo to Dhaka, Wednesday, October 15 is likely to break all records as millions and millions of children practice the power of proper sanitation through soap suds and pledging not to leave their human excreta in the open.

South Asia has the highest rate in the world of people using no toilet at all

International cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar has also joined forces with UNICEF to get Indian children to wash their hands for better health and hygiene as part of the first ever Global Handwashing Day on October 15.

Tendulkar is featured in a public service announcement available now for download that will broadcast this month in 14 languages on television channels across the country to drum up support for the campaign targeting students in more than six million schools across India.

“Having two young children, I constantly have to remind them to wash their hands before and after meals,” Tendulkar said. “I wanted to be a part of this campaign, because washing hands with soap can keep children safe and healthy and protect them against deadly disease.”

A simple act

Studies in Pakistan and elsewhere have proven that effective hand washing - for at least 20 seconds - with soap, cuts deaths from pneumonia and diarrhoea by some 50 percent. Hand washing with soap before meals and after using the toilet, is the single most inexpensive health intervention in the world. Sanitation offers the chance of saving the lives of more than a half a million children in the region each year

South Asia has the highest rate in the world of people using no toilet at all world – 48 per cent of the population (next highest, sub-Saharan Africa is only 28 per cent) – with some 778 million people still relying on open defecation, the riskiest sanitation practice of all.

The hygiene promotion activities and events are aimed at lifting the lid on this, one of the world’s “last taboos” which presents serious health risks from diarrhoea, worm infestations, hepatitis and acute respiratory infections like pneumonia – all the biggest killers of children. It is also one of the greatest environmental hazards and the greatest contributor to malnutrition in the region.

“Children themselves can transform this day into an automatic act and this way dramatically improve the chances of their countries to reach the MDGs”

As UNICEF recognises children as the most powerful agents of change in society, events on Global Hand Washing Day are being centred around schools, drama groups, presented by animated characters on television, cartoons in newspapers, and jingles on radio stations, and television shows, to show that hand washing with soap would make a significant contribution to the region meeting the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs.

Specially timed songs, of 20-25 seconds, will ring out across the length and breadth of South Asia, so children will get into the swing of making hand washing a fun habit.

“Having a celebrity of this magnitude, who is instantly recognisable to cricket fans not only in India but around the world, will help us mobilise millions of young people,” said Karin Hulshof, UNICEF Representative in India commenting on Sachin Tendulkar’s participation. “Lending free-of-charge his image to promote handwashing with soap will undoubtedly save many children’s lives.”

Children can change habits

Globally, South Asia has the worst sanitation indicators and six of the eight countries in the region are not on target to meet the sanitation millennium development goal. Only Pakistan and Sri Lanka are so far going to achieve their goals “Improved sanitation” goals of dramatically reducing related deaths among under -fives by 2015. This refers to using any facility that hygienically separates human waste from the environment.

“We know that this single, very ordinary act of washing hands with soap can have an extraordinary impact on saving the lives of South Asian children,” said Dan Toole, Regional Director of UNICEF South Asia.  “It is inspiring to see all our partners, teachers, politicians, and NGOs - and most importantly children themselves – put so much energy and enthusiasm into Global Hand Washing Day. We know that children themselves can transform this day into an automatic act and this way dramatically improve the chances of their countries to reach the MDGs.”

Some of the highlights that will take place around the region culminating on Global Handwashing Day on October 15 are:

  • In India at schools throughout the country before the mid – day meal, millions of school children will take a pledge to stop open defecation and to promote hand washing with soap; the hugely popular cricket celebrity, Sachin Tendulkar and other stars,  will be singing along while scrubbing up. The Indian government is firmly behind the massive campaign.
  • In Afghanistan, with the highest child mortality rate in the region, ministries are mobilising and ministers are expected to be out and about on 15th October backing hand washing competitions, television talk shows will be dedicated to sanitation issues In Bangladesh some 100 000 playgrounds (more than 16 million children) will be buzzing with songs of soap and cakes of soap and life-saving messages
  • In Pakistan the famous animated figure of Commander Safeguard and even newscasters will join more than 52 organisations, including soap manufacturers and media groups, endorsing hand washing
  • Sri Lanka will be taking the surgical nine steps of hand washing and popularising them in clinics, hospitals and tea plantations
  • In Nepal the new government will be actively engaged in hand washing events; and mobile phone companies will send out mass text messages reminding the Nepalese to get out the soap
  • In Bhutan animated videos with Bhutanese characters will be helping to maximise the message that clean hands make strong bodies.
Source : UNICEF
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