United Nations Children’s Education Fund, UNICEF, has said that lack of access to hygiene could endanger the new development agenda recently adopted by the United Nations.
UNICEF-Nigeria, which stated this during the commemoration of the global Handwashing Day ceremony in Abuja, while raising the alarm that Sustainable Development Goals including hygiene, adopted only last month are at risk.
It said that one of the SDG targets is to achieve ‘access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene’ by 2030 and revealed that hand washing with soap is dangerously low in many countries, despite its proven benefits to child health.
UNICEF said improvements in hygiene must supplement access to water and sanitation, or children will continue to fall victim to easily preventable diseases like diarrhoea.
Along with drinking water and access to toilets, hygiene, particularly handwashing with soap, is the essential third leg of the stool holding up the Goal on water and sanitation.
“From birth, when unwashed hands of birth attendants can transmit dangerous pathogens, right through babyhood, school and beyond, handwashing is crucial for a child’s health. It is one of the cheapest, simplest, most effective health interventions we have,” it stated
Meanwhile, UNICEF said that inappropriate hand wash poses a serious public-health risk, saying that Nigeria loses over 150,000 children from diarrhoea alone, largely caused by unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene practices.
It revealed that from the survey carried out in six states by UNICEF, an average of 82 per cent of people washed their hands before eating, while only 53 per cent of people washed their hands with soap after defecation. Only about 14 per cent of people wash their hands with soap after cleaning a child’s faeces.
“This poses a serious public-health risk. Every year Nigeria loses over 150,000 children from diarrhoea alone, largely caused by unsafe water, sanitation & hygiene practices. This is equivalent to a big passenger aircraft crashing every day.”
According to the statement, regular hand washing with soap after using toilets, after changing children’s nappies and before eating or handling food saves more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention. It can reduce deaths from diarrhoea by almost half and deaths from acute respiratory infections by one-quarter.
The statement revealed that hand washing with soap was also an important line of defense against the spread of Ebola in Nigeria.
Disclosing the plan of some relevant organisation in tackling this, the statement said that UNICEF, with the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, the National Task Group on Sanitation and other partners plans to reach at least 10 million Nigerians this year through high profile handwashing demonstrations in schools and communities, mass rallies, road shows, airing of jingles on radio and television, and dissemination of handwashing messages on U-Report, Facebook and Twitter.

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