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Handwashing habits can reduce stunting rate among children-Unicef

By Kanamugire Emmanuel

The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) urges people to enhance handwashing habit, one of effective interventions in fighting diseases that lead to stunting among children.

October 15th is Global Handwashing Day. This year the theme focuses on the links between handwashing and food – including food hygiene and nutrition.

Washing hands with water and soap before eating, while preparing food, and after leaving the toilet is a simple, inexpensive, and good practice that protects against many diseases, Albertine Uwimana, Unicef WASH programme officer, has said.

Uwimana said that poor hygiene is the source of many diseases that lead to stunting among children.

Stunting reflects failure to receive adequate nutrition over a long period of time and is also

affected by recurrent and chronic illness.

“Poor sanitation and hygiene are some of the roots of stunting. Diseases like diarrhea and anaemia are common in children between seven months and two years. In the case of chronic infections, the body cannot absorb the nutrients it needs”, she noted.

By developing the habit of drinking clean water, eating clean food, washing hands at school or health facilities, Rwanda can reduce stunting from 38% to 19%, Uwimana highlights.

Nationally, 38 percent of children under age 5 are stunted, and 14 percent are severely stunted(DHS 2015 report).

This survey report conducted by the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda, shows that 86 per cent of the households have basic access to clean water. However among households whose have place for hand washing 12 percent have water only compared to 5 per cent with water and soap.

Unicef insists that the washing facilities should be put in place in the community like schools and health facilities because there is a big percentage of young people.

The same report revealed that 11 per cent of households countrywide have toilets that can cause health hazard because they are non-improved or shared whereas 2 per cent of households live without toilet.

Unicef urges people to invest in building proper toilets as this kind of investment remains inexpensive.

“It’s only about behavior change because it doesn’t require a heavy budget. One can invest much money in building a big house but the kitchen and the toilets are neglected because people don’t access them easily.” Uwimana reiterated.

At least 272 million of children don’t attend school daily worldwide due to diarrhea.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the leading national public health institute of the United States, handwashing education in the community can reduce the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by about 23-40%, reduces absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness in schoolchildren by 29-57%. It can also reduce diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by about 58% and respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by about 16-21%.

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