Saturday, October 15, 2011

Global Handwashing Day

Today is global handwashing day! Now you may be thinking, "What's the big deal about handwashing?" That's probably because you have had the idea of washing your hands with soap drilled into you from a very young age. Remember when you were first learning about this though? Remember your parents telling you that you always needed wash your hands after you go to the bathroom and before you eat to make sure you got rid of dirt? 

I can remember arguing with my parents that my hands weren't dirty because I couldn't see any dirt on them, but through them educating me about germs as well as programs in my school, I learned that there are germs and bacteria which I can't see that I need to try to remove from my hands too.

Handwashing with soap is the most effective and inexpensive way to prevent diarrheal and acute respiratory infections which take the lives of millions of children in the developing world each year.  This habit, could save more lives than any vaccine or other medical intervention, and could cut the number of lives lost each year to diarrhea by almost half!

There is a ton of publicity around initiatives to provide clean drinking water to our global neighbors who are living in extreme poverty, but there is also a huge need for interventions like handwashing stations and the use of soap after going to the bathroom and before eating. Water and sanitation hygiene, according to Unicef, is a key ingredient necessary to make international development possible. At Nuru, our holistic approach to tackling poverty has enabled us to tackle several problems at once and overlap solutions between different program areas. A great example emerges in handwashing. Our water and sanitation team has been developing low-cost handwashing stations that can be constructed, and sold to individual families at a very low cost, and then revenues generated from the sale of these stations can be used to maintain and grow our water and sanitation program. At the same time, our community health workers travel through villages and reinforce the concept of handwashing to save lives by visiting individual homes and providing education on why handwashing is important. As they travel, tehy also bring soap and other commodities to these homes and sell them for a low cost. This easy access to soap, along with handwashing stations, and education on why both are important when it comes to reducing sickness and the mortality rate of children under five are making a huge difference in the communities where Nuru works!

The video I shared here is a recording of testing an early prototype handwashing station for durability. To read more about this prototype click here. Global handwashing day is focused particularly on educating children, not only because of their great risk, but also because young people can also be incredible agents for changing behaviors. Their energy and enthusiasm is even more contagious than the pathogens on their hands. Today, as we celebrate global handwashing day, may we together take action to help others, especially children, to live healthier lives!

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