Thursday, October 19, 2017

UNICEF joins celebration to promote handwashing with soap

Students of the Basic Education School No. 5 Comoro
participating in the Global Handwashing Day event
organized by the Ministers of Health and Education with the support of UNICEF.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2017/dmonemnasi
The excitement of students at the Basic Education School No. 5 Comoro as they waited for the start of the Global Handwashing Day event was palpable. Many children ran around the yard, smiling and waving their Global Handwashing Day flags. Others excitedly practiced their skits and presentations.

Global Handwashing Day has been celebrated in Timor-Leste since 2014. This year’s event was filled with enthusiastic singing, skits and presentations with lots of handwashing from children and leaders alike. UNICEF Representative Valérie Taton joined First Lady Cidália Lopes Nobre Mouzinho Guterres and representatives from the Ministries of Education and Health joined the event, organized with the support of UNICEF and other development partners.

This year’s theme, “Our hands, Our future,” emphasizes the impact that handwashing can have not just on individuals but also on communities. Handwashing is an affordable and effective solution to poor health outcomes and has the power to improve access to education for children, protect the health of patients and communities, and reduce inequities.

“Our health is in our hands, as well as our future” declared one student from School No. 5 Comoro during the event. In a short play during the event, students emphasized what could happen to children if they don’t wash their hands with soap after playing, after using the toilet and at other crucial times.

Making handwashing with soap a routine practice at home and in schools
“There are three things parents need to do to take care of children: hygiene, vaccination and sanitation,” First Lady Cidália Guterres said in her speech at the event.  “As parents, handwashing is an attitude we need to practice and need to show as an example for children to follow. It’s not enough that we do handwashing in schools. We need to start in the family,” she added.
First Lady Cidália Lopes Nobre Mouzinho Guterres and UNICEF Representative Valérie Taton
joined the Global Handwashing Day event to promote safe hygiene practices.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2017/dmonemnasi
Less than half of households have proper handwashing facilities in Timor-Leste and hygiene practices are poor. The Timor-Leste Food and Nutrition Survey 2013 showed that only 40.7 per cent of all Timorese households had a handwashing facility with water and soap. A 2011 study found that only 1.6 per cent of women in rural areas of Ainaro, Bobonaro and Viqueque Municipalities washed their hands with soap after defecation and only 1.2 per cent of women washed their hands after cleaning a child’s bottom.

UNICEF has been promoting safe hygiene practices to families and schools in Dili and across Timor-Leste to improve hygiene practices through a number of programmes, including Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in schools, WASH in rural areas, Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), a parenting education program, community pre-schools and hygiene promotion campaigns.

UNICEF supports handwashing campaigns in the Sucos (villages) of Timor-Leste after Sucos achieve open defecation free (ODF) status. As of October 2017, UNICEF has supported 77 Sucos out of 452 total nationwide to achieve ODF status. Hygiene promotion campaigns have been conducted in the same 77 Sucos, covering a total population of 169,253 people. UNICEF also supports the creation of water-user committees in rural communities to enhance communities’ overall capacity to operate and maintain rural water supply stations.

In schools, UNICEF has set up model group hand-washing facilities in schools in Dili with plans to expand to the municipalities. UNICEF-supported community pre-schools also emphasize safe hygiene practices and handwashing with soap. Tippy-taps and hygiene kits are provided to the community pre-schools to encourage handwashing with soap.

Handwashing – a simple but effective solution to improve health and development outcomes
Teaching the importance of handwashing with soap to families and children in Timor-Leste can have profound effects not just on health outcomes. Global evidence shows that 47 per cent of diarrheal diseases can be prevented through handwashing with soap. It also has an impact on children’s learning. The less students are sick, the more schooldays they can attend, contributing to educational attainment and achievement as well. A lack of handwashing facilities can also disproportionately affect vulnerable and disadvantaged populations, exacerbating existing educational, health and economic outcomes.
Schoolchildren practicing handwashing with soap
as part of the Global Handwashing Day celebration.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2017/dmonemnasi
“The bacteria in your hands can make you sick. When you wash your hands with soap regularly, you are healthy and you can do well in school,” First Lady Cidália Guterres said. “Handwashing with soap is not just for today. We need to continue it.”

Although Global Handwashing Day takes place once a year, UNICEF continuously promotes safe hygiene practices like handwashing with soap to catalyze behaviour change that have a positive effect on children over the course of their lives.

By Tiffany Cao, UNICEF Timor-Leste Intern

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