A stomach or respiratory illness might be a minor inconvenience in some places, but in many countries, these illnesses can be lethal. Children are exceptionally vulnerable. Handwashing with soap is a critical behavior change to promote since it’s both affordable and effective in reducing the incidence of diarrhea among children under five by almost 50 percent, and respiratory infections by nearly 25 percent.
To raise awareness about the enormous impact handwashing can have in the developing world, the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing (PPPHW) – of which USAID is a founding partner – established Global Handwashing Day, observed worldwide on October 15.
Chemonics’ health programs promote handwashing year-round by educating the communities they serve about the importance of handwashing, especially its impact on disease prevention in children. In the West Bank and Gaza, many Palestinian rural communities are vulnerable to diseases caused by water shortages, farming, and uncollected garbage. But the expense and time required to travel to main health care centers often discourages villagers from dealing with their health problems.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health, in partnership with Chemonics’ Palestinian Health Sector Reform and Development Project, is responding by fostering healthier behaviors like handwashing amongst residents and young children living in remote communities.
Through a series of successful Healthy Living Summer Camps, the Ministry and the Project are teaching 1,500 Palestinian children about key healthy lifestyle behaviors – from the benefits of personal hygiene, to nutritional eating, to street safety. Informing mothers of the life-saving benefits of handwashing is also critical to helping the communities incorporate these behaviors into everyday life.
“The healthy living messages will not just go to the mothers but onto other homes,“ says Mohammed, a counselor from the camp. “That way we will reach the whole village.”
By teaching children – and the larger community – how to limit the spread of germs and prevent accidents, the Ministry of Health is addressing public health risks at the source to improve the health of isolated Palestinian villagers.
Additionally, mothers in Bangladesh are learning the value of handwashing through the efforts of the Smiling Sun Franchise Program (SSFP). SSFP engages mothers, students, and service providers in all 64 districts in the country to promote handwashing and safe water as a means to prevent infections and diseases. Advanced Chemical Industries Limited (ACI) is a partner in SSFP activities, and provides hygiene promotion products such as soap throughout the NGO network.