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

It’s been almost two years since “the guardians of the lake” started fighting against the Conga Gold Mining Project in the Cajamarca region of Northern Peru. The reason they are fighting is simple: water. Perol, the great lake of Cajamarca, is the source of all agriculture in these mountainous regions, as it flows into all the river springs and lakes further down in the mountains, supplying water to crops and animals.

“They want to make of Perol a huge crater, but we won’t let anyone come close,” warns Maritza Bolanos, an inhabitant of the village of Sorocucho, near the lake. In Peru, the resistance from those who live there is known as “the guardians of the lake.” Approximately 40 villagers are always on the site to ensure that no engine comes close to the lake. According to Maria Teresa, another farmer, they relieve each other every three days, to ensure that the lake is never left without surveillance.

“Everything would dry up,” German Sangay, the mayor of Combayo, said to the Huffington Post, if Conga is not halted. For instance, the plan projects to extract 200 tons of gold situated under the lake, and would thus involve destroying four mountain lakes within a periphery of 11.5 square miles (3,000 hectares). Although leaders of the project assure that they will rebuild four reservoirs to replace the lakes, the mayor and inhabitants of surrounding villages are not convinced.

Nearly 4,000 farmers rely on the 30 different springs into which the lake divides to grow corn and potatoes and raise cattle and sheep, according to the Huffington Post. Fearing for the survival of their activities, resistance to the project has been acute, with five people killed in recent months when the police fired on the protesters, leading the Peruvian authorities to declare a state of emergency.

The project, blocked by the lake guardians since 2011, seems unlikely to come to fruition in the near future. The results of a recent Ipsos-Apyo survey are clear: 78 percent of Cajamarca residents are against the project, while only 15 percent approve of it. With an error of five percentage points, the poll results are a sure sign that protest and occupation of the site is unlikely to stop.

– Lauren Yeh
Sources: Le Monde, Newmont, Huffington Post 
Photo: Demotix

Jim Yong Kim
CARABAYLLO, Peru — This week, the President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, returned to the small village of Carabayllo in Peru, where he has been working for many years to reduce Tuberculosis. Kim co-founded the health NGO, Socios en Salud (SES), in 1994, and has since served an estimated population of 700,000 inhabitants of small shantytowns around the capital, Lima. A sister organization of Partners in Health (PIH), the history of SES provides a poignant lesson on fighting poverty.

When SES was founded, its main focus was primary healthcare, but this changed when a Boston priest working in Carabayllo died of multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB). President Kim launched an investigation, which soon found many others in the region suffering from drug-resistant TB. From there on, the organization came up against many challenges.

The government initially refused to treat the TB patients, and when they did agree, the costs were huge. After securing funding from a Boston philanthropist, 75 people suffering from MDR-TB were treated. In such a poor community, this was almost unprecedented. Only in Haiti had a small group of people been successfully treated in a similar setting. But, after four months of treatment, 90% of the patients in Carabayllo no longer had infectious TB, and it was this success that led the World Bank to support MDR-TB treatment in the developing world.

President Kim visited the small village in Peru, and made acute observations about the needs of the community, acknowledging that the fight against MDR-TB was not only a medical problem, but a social justice problem, too. Jamie Bayona, co-founded of SES, said of President Kim “his approach was fixing the problem from the root, not just from what was bothering them on the surface. Socios treated people, and also offered counseling, job training, and food packets.”

This represented a learning curve for both President Kim and the World Bank. Kim said in an interview that the World Bank is not just about financing and macro-economic policy, but also about working in communities like Carabayllo to address issues of poverty, and find lasting solutions. In addition to treating people with MDR-TB, SES took the decision to go one step further – to provide food, shelter and emotional support. “Doing all those things was a litmus test, a test for society. If [societies] could do that, my goodness, what else could you do for people and for the world?” Kim concluded.

– Chloe Isacke

Source: World Bank