Over 200 million soaping up for global hand-washing day.
In the aftermath of the H1N1 virus and the Christchurch earthquake, preventing the spread of diseases through proper hand-washing has become of critical importance.
“The message is basically to set up the hand washing habit in children at an early age,” says UNICEF NZ executive director Dennis McKinlay.
This year on Global Hand-washing Day, UNICEF New Zealand is launching an education kit on hand-washing for Early Childhood Centres and new entrants classes.
The kit teaches basic hand-washing skills and includes fun activities like actions to a Wiggles song.
According to a 2005 study, proper hand-washing alone reduces the number of children dying from diarrhoea by 44 percent.
Diarrhoea and acute respiratory diseases are the two biggest killers of children under five in the world – accounting for some 3.5 million deaths a year, nearly the population of New Zealand.
“Although we hopefully will not see the grim reality of deaths from these diseases on a large scale in New Zealand, we still need to be vigilant and teach our children correct hand-washing techniques” he says.
Unfortunately other research shows that many people do NOT wash their hands. Observed use of hand washing, before handling food and after using the toilet ranges from zero to 34%. In New Zealand the incidence is much higher – 86.7% of people were observed to wash their hands in washrooms, according to a study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal. But New Zealand women were much likely to wash their hands than men.
Research conducted overseas shows that a difference between people’s claims of how often they wash their hands – and their hand washing behaviour.
Mr McKinlay says that hand-washing is a vital practice that all families should implement into their daily lives.
“The most important times to wash your hands are after using the toilet and before eating,” he says.
“It is easy for children and parents to forget to wash their hands before eating, preparing food, or touch someone who has just sneezed, and then put their hands in their mouth.
Diseases such as diarrhoea or the flu spread easily in kindergartens, at school, at children’s parties and within families.
A review of several studies published in the Lancet Medical Journal shows that regular hand washing can reduce the incidence of summer diarrhoea by 30% at early childhood centres. Even the chances of getting coughs, colds and ‘flu’ are reduced with regular hand washing.
“Most children over the age of two, with supervision, should be able to wash their own hands,” he says.
Global Hand-Washing Day’s simple messages are:
- Washing hands with water alone is not enough to remove dirt and germs.
- The critical moments for hand-washing are after using the toilet, after cleaning a child and before handling food
- Hand-washing with soap is the single most cost-effective health intervention.
- Some diseases, avoided by hand washing, such as diarrhoea can be fatal.
And did you know?
* Antibacterial soap is no better than other soaps. What makes the difference is properly using whatever soap you have available.
* After wetting and soaping your hands you should scrub them (at all angles) for at least 20 seconds before rinsing and drying thoroughly.
what you can do to helpWant to help UNICEF teach more children about hand-washing, and keep young lives healthy? Donate now to our life-saving work around the world. Or, provide clean water for a family who really needs it, with our Inspired Gifts!
Are you a preschool or new entrance teacher? Want to teach your children about hand-washing? 'Let's Wash Our Hands' is an early childhood educational resource with games, lessons and stories about hand-washing.
Want to know what UNICEF is doing? Read about how Magdala Celestin is teaching children and their families in Haiti about the importance of hand-washing.