2020 is the year we have all been reminded that our lives are literally in our hands. It is the year we have all been forced to keep our hands and the environment clean, sanitize our hands frequently and even wear nose masks. As a relatively small act, handwashing plays a key role in ensuring good health, and is the first step in maintaining generally good hygiene.
Many of the illnesses we battle in Nigeria are largely preventable. According toUNICEF, over 870,000 children across the world are lost every year to illnesses that are preventable (respiratory and gastrointestinal infections)!
A 2019report released by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources and UNICEF, stated that 46 million people are still practising open defecation. In spite of these alarming figures, the report admits that Nigeria “is making some progress in improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) to its population, with 70 percent of Nigerians having access to basic drinking water services.” There was a drop from 2018’s 47 million people who openly defecated.
Still, with over200 million Nigerians and over 80 million living on less than $1, the government understandably totters under the strain to keep lowering the figures.
Thankfully, for years, health-based organisations, influential individuals and Nigerians with ingenious ideas have also been at the forefront of educating and informing the public about the importance of handwashing with soap.
In 2018,Hope and Dream, a non-governmental organisation, sensitised 782 students in six schools in Delta State, on handwashing hygiene and proper handwashing procedures.
Dettol expanded its commitment to handwashing and personal hygiene with a full year of activities. There have been initiatives such as theNew Moms Program andSchool Hygiene Program. Dettol launched a nationwide campaign called ‘Clean Naija’, it was an integrated multi-level campaign with the aim of creating awareness, education and driving behavioural change to achieve a cleaner and healthier Nigeria.
With the advent of COVID, even more organizations and individuals have unified voices. In March 2020,Reuters reported about Bamigbose Adams, a Nigerian artisan who was turning old metal drums into custom hand-washing basins in Lagos. That was his contribution to the overarching message. No matter how seemingly small, he was able to impact his community.
At a time when the world is fighting for survival, it has become more expedient that everyone plays their part in ensuring our collective safety. Simple actions like handwashing, wearing a nose mask, sanitizing your hands frequently will go a long way in helping the world overcome not just the pandemic, but simple preventable diseases as well.
There is still so much that has to be done to sensitize people – particularly children, who are the most susceptible to disease and infection. It is critical to understand and appreciate the importance of keeping clean hands to ensure good health. Proper and frequent handwashing has to become a part of the culture, in order to ensure good health and long life.
One of the lessons 2020 has taught us is that washing hands can actually save a life.