KATHMANDU, Nepal, 22 October 2008 - Nepal celebrated the first-ever Global Handwashing Day, 15 October, with various activities and demonstrations designed to convey one key message: that the simple act of handwashing can prevent many deadly diseases.
An estimated that 3.5 million children around the world lose their lives to diarrhoeal disease and pneumonia, which can be prevented by the simple act of washing hands with soap. On Global Handwashing Day, UNICEF Nepal and its partners relied on numerous methods to spread the life-saving message about the importance of hygiene throughout this Himalayan nation.
For example, Nepal Telecom mobile users received a text message with the slogan, "Let's wash our hands and keep ourselves healthy!" And drivers from the Rickshaw Pullers Association raised awareness inall corners of the three major Kathmandu Valley cities. Their rickshaws were decorated with handwashing messages, and the drivers disseminated pamphlets and stickers to thousands of people.
"Many people have a tendency to believe that if their hands look clean, that they are fine, and they neglect washing their hands with soap at critical times," said the chief of UNICEF Nepal's WASH (for 'water, sanitation and hygiene') section, Larry Robertson. "The critical times are before and after eating, before preparing food and after defecation and cleaning babies' bottoms."
Outreach to schools
Schools also got involved in the campaign when the Private and Boarding Schools Organization of Nepal (PABSON) announced that all of its 9,000 member schools would make sure soap and water are available in all school toilets, bathrooms and canteens.
"We commit that the students at our member schools will ensure that every child washes their hands before and after eating and after using the toilet," said PABSON President Bhoj Bahadur Shah. This commitment could have an enormous impact, since more than 1.5 million children study at schools affiliated with PABSON.
Meanwhile, the General Post Office here announced that it would use a postmark with a special handwashing message to stamp all the letters and documents posted for 15 days.
Key message for Nepal
Around the country - even in temporary camps for flood-affected families - schoolchildren demonstrated the proper method of washing hands, held handwashing slogan competitions and performed educational plays. Local radio stations got in on the act by airing relevant messages to the general public.
"Handwashing with soap is the easiest and cheapest way to reduce child mortality," said UNICEF Representative in Nepal Gillian Mellsop. "Sixty-one out of every 1,000 children born in Nepal die before celebrating their fifth birthday, and among these, a third die even before they are a year old. Many of these deaths can be prevented by the simple, yet vital act of handwashing."
Ms. Mellsop also highlighted the studies that have shown newborn lives can be saved if birth attendants and mothers wash their hands with soap before delivering and touching babies. This is a key message for Nepal, which is now on target to achieve the Millennium Development Goals for reducing maternal and child mortality.