By Rhodie Miller
A coalition of international stakeholders have come together in a Global Public-Private Partnership to give communities and families the power to prevent diarrhoea and respiratory infections through the simple act of teaching children how to wash their hands. Rhodie Miller, HGI Principal Search Consultant was there to lend a hand.
Hand washing with soap is seldom done – A Primary Health Care initiative
Hand washing with soap before eating and after using the toilet into an ingrained habit could save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention, cutting deaths from diarrhoea by almost half and deaths from acute respiratory infections by one-quarter.
– The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap (PPPHW)
Young children are more vulnerable than any other age group to the ill effects of unsafe water, poor sanitation and lack of hygiene. These contribute to 88 per cent of deaths from diarrhoeal diseases. Children under 5 years old account for nearly 90 % of deaths from diarrhoea.
Hand washing with soap is the single-most cost-effective health intervention. The simple habit of hand washing with soap is estimated to reduce the incidence of diarrhoea by nearly half. It also greatly reduces the risk of respiratory infections such as pneumonia and other diseases, including eye infections, especially trachoma.
The Tekra slum in Ahmedabad that I visited this Christmas / New Year period and also in 2013, is a prime target population for teaching the simple task of hand washing. People in the slum only have access to water from the well for two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon. Women fill containers with water which they use for cooking, cleaning and toileting. Water in any quantity is limited particularly in the dry season. My aim was to visit the schools, community centres and kindergartens and try to instil the importance of washing hands. Luckily I had the help of some university students from Gujarat who were also volunteering and able to translate for me, which made the project a lot more effective especially for the younger children unable to understand English. I had printed off hundreds of colouring-in sheets which emphasised the main times to hand wash and the consequences of not doing so. We took a large box of Derwent pencils and they all loved the choice of colours and were very proud of the results I also procured a product called Glogerm, a rub-on lotion and a UV light which when shone on the hands glowed where the hands weren’t sufficiently clean or had “germs” left behind.
The children enjoyed this and were all keen to participate as it was something they hadn’t seen before.
The task was slow and quite intense as the bowls of water we used soon became dirty and had to be replaced. Trying to show the littlies how to hand rub with soap which you would expect to be a familiar task was not, and they needed to be shown how to do it. Then all their little hands needed to be dried and the only towels were quickly wet and needed to be dried in the sun. The task then extended to clipping nails as the areas where they play are dirty and muddy and the nails accumulate dirt.
Very simple things to us, but very demanding and we were tired by the end of the day but it was more than a physical tiredness. The human stories you encounter and the harsh conditions that the children play in, can be emotionally demanding and deeply moving,
The journey for a country like India is a long one to get to where Australia is in terms of education and health care. I went with an ultimate objective in mind to want to make a difference in a small part of the world. I think if everyone makes a small contribution to making the world a better place that is better than doing nothing at all.