Medical experts observe that diarrhoea – the frequent and excessive discharging of thin watery stool – can result in deaths if there is no proper medical intervention.
They express concern about a report from the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, which indicates that more than194, 000 children who are less than five years of age die of diarrhoea diseases every year in Nigeria.
According to the fund, 88 per cent of deaths arising from diarrhoea among these children are associated with unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene.
It says that “diarrhoeal diseases account for nearly 1.3 million deaths a year among children under-five years of age, making them the second most common cause of child deaths worldwide.
“Over half of the deaths occur in just five countries: India, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Ethiopia’’.
Experts then observe the hand washing campaign could be used to save the lives of many children who die unnecessarily every year in Nigeria.
They prescribe hand washing with soap or ash at critical times, such as before handling food and after defecation or changing a diaper for effective control of the disease.
Sharing similar sentiments, UNICEF notes that safe sanitation practices through promotion and proper hand washing have proven to be the most cost-effective public health intervention against diarrhoea.
Stakeholders, therefore, insist that the public should encourage regular practice of hand washing among children, families and communities.
They also urge government to improve sanitary conditions in schools and communities to reduce infant deaths arising from diarrhoea diseases.
According to them, parents, caregivers and guardians should be enlightened on hand washing strategy which could save more lives than one single vaccine or medical intervention.
Besides, Mrs Boladale Akin-Kolapo of the Society for Family Health, SFH, suggested that children should be encouraged to promote hand washing campaign.
“They are key change agents and would often go back home to teach their siblings, parents and friends the importance and processes for carrying out simple health practices such as hand washing,’’ she observed.
She also observed that in the event of outbreak of diarrhoea, prescriptions such as Oral Rehydration Salts, ORS, and zinc tablets by medical experts would be effective in treating the disease.
“Many years ago, we were using ORS which is just salt water solution but at the moment, we preach that people should use it with zinc tablet.
“This is because the ORS will deal with the dehydration that the child will suffer during diarrhoea while the zinc will restore the child’s energy,’’ Akin-Kolapo explained.
According to her, diarrhoea and other hygiene related illnesses can be deadly for young children while good hygiene is important to their prevention.
For prevention, she insisted that hand washing was the most effective way to control the spread of various types of infection and illness in the community.
“We all have a responsibility as Nigerians to keep our future generation safe; we have to educate the children because an educated child or individual is an empowered person,’’ she said.
Encouraging other schools to promote campaign on hand washing, Mrs Chinyere Peter, an employee of a primary school in Kubwa, Abuja, said the school authority had been encouraging the pupils to wash their hands always after using the toilet and before and after eating.
She said the awareness created on the importance of hand washing would help to reduce the occurrence of diseases.
Peter said the school management would continue to promote the advocacy on hand washing to ensure healthy practices by the children.
In the same vein, Dr Adeseye Akinsote, a paediatrician, stressed that proper hand washing with soap and clean water would reduce incidence of diarrhoea among children less than five years of age by 50 per cent.
He also observed that hand washing with soap and clean water could reduce respiratory infections by 25 per cent.
Insisting that hand washing is effective in the prevention of disease, UNICEF Acting-Representative in Nigeria Robert Limlim, said there was a lot of scientific evidences showing the significance of hand washing to reduction in diarrhoea.
“The most recent study indicates that hand washing can reduce diarrhoea episodes by about 30 per cent and up to 47 per cent reduction has been achieved in some cases.
“The diarrhoea prevalence rate in Nigeria is 18.8 per cent; the worst in sub-Sahara Africa,’’ he said.
By and large, medical experts observe that if the public uphold hand washing campaign and take it to the grassroots, child deaths arising from diarrhoea diseases in Nigeria will reduce drastically. (NAN Features)

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