, NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 16 – ‘Help Kevin celebrate his fifth birthday,” a banner reads; with a picture of ‘Kevin’ in a birthday hat blowing out candles next to it.
I remember getting diarrhoea as a child. The doctor prescribed horrible tasting tablets. They were green to boot; not very appealing. I tried swallowing one and it just would not go down. I gagged, promptly took it out of my mouth, wiped my tongue using my sweater sleeve and proceeded to hide the offending tablet behind a cushion on the sofa.
It’s easy to take diarrhoea for granted. ‘Simply take a mixture of salt, sugar and water,’ I remember my home science teacher telling me.
Except diarrhoea related deaths in children under five, “exceed that of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined,” Ecotact Limited and Wash United said last month.
UNICEF places the number of children under five who die from diarrhoeal related diseases at 2,000 a day. Thirty thousand children under five years of age die in Kenya every year.
A figure that can be cut in half if hand washing with soap is done at five critical stages: after visiting the toilet, before (the three) meals of the day and during bath time.
Acute respiratory infections such as pneumonia can be cut down by a third should proper hand washing take place, Dave Lewis, Unilever’s Personal Care Business President said on Monday.
“Evidence shows that washing hands with water and soap at the right times can reduce instances of diarrhoea by 35 to 50 percent and acute respiratory infections by 30 percent. Diarrhoea and pneumonia are the two leading causes of under-5 deaths in Africa,” Lewis said.
The risks associated with improper hand washing or the neglect thereof are made even more startling given 97 percent of Kenyan homes have soap but only five percent of these use it to wash their hands at the appropriate times.
Children being the most at risk, only five percent of schools in Kenya have hand washing facilities.
“People have soap, but they do not use it when, or as often, as they should. In Kenya for instance, only one in ten people wash hands with soap at critical junctures,” Lewis added.
The Global Hand Washing Day marked on Monday is one way employed to sensitise the general public on the importance of hand washing with soap. The day commemorated in over one hundred countries across the Globe and the activities that surround it are meant to bring us closer to achieving the fourth of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to be achieved by 2015.
That of reducing the mortality rate of children under five years of age by two thirds.
Studies show that the adoption of hand washing with soap can prevent one million of 3.5 million deaths recorded annually globally.
“As we get closer to 2015, there’s urgent need for African governments, NGOs and corporates to fast track the attainment of MDGs by motivating communities to adopt hygiene practices such as hand washing with soap at essential times,” Lewis urged.
While the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) admits gains have been made in the last five years they say more still needs to be done to ensure Kevin gets to blow out his candles on his fifth birthday.
“Though the number has significantly declined in the five years since Global Handwashing Day was established, it is still too high.”
So after that visit to the bathroom remember to wet your hands, use some soap, work up a lather, rub your palms together, wash the back of your hands up to your wrists, don’t forget to wash in between your fingers and your nails then rinse and dry. Then smile because you just cut the risk of getting a running stomach by half.