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A mother’s typical question to a child, “did you wash your hands?” may have seemed like a pesky reminder when growing up, but research shows that hand-washing is one of the most important and live-saving habits that can be instilled in a society. Hand-washing with soap has been shown to reduce the incidence of diarrhea by almost one half and of acute respiratory infections by roughly one third.

Since hand-washing is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce deaths of children under five from diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia – possibly by up to 70% -, the global health soap brand Lifebuoy is teaming up with USAID to create a neonatal program designed to raise awareness of the link between newborn survival and hand washing with soap.

The program targets new mothers and birth attendants through antenatal clinics and health workers. The campaign also uses innovative videos to appeal to the mother’s maternal instinct by communicating the message “hand-washing helps your child survive.” Persuasive advocates such as the Indian actress Kajol also support the cause and help generate awareness of the importance of hand-washing, especially after having used the toilet or before preparing food.

Another initiative which aims to modify everyday behavior is the Global Scaling Up Hand-washing Project, supported by the World Bank in countries such as Peru, Senegal, Tanzania, and Vietnam. These interventions found that while will and motivation to change habits might be present, hand-washing is also dependent on the ease of access to both water and soap. In this way, the program has aimed to make changes in the way soap and water are accessed in households.

The initiative has also found that in countries such as Senegal, men can also play a critical part in the behavior-changing process. Since they are seen as the role-models or leaders of their households, future interventions will also incorporate campaigns that include or are aimed at men.

– Nayomi Chibana
Feature Writer 

Sources: USAID, World Bank
Photo: Old Picture of the Day