The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says the mere act of washing hands could help prevent death, especially among young children, as it prevents the spread of sicknesses.
UNICEF’s Country Representative Micaela de Sousa, in a speech read on her behalf by the deputy representative, Marcus Betts, emphasized the importance of preventing communicable diseases such as cholera, polio and diarrhoea, stating that simple hand washing could save millions of lives.
She pointed out that while Namibia is in the right direction to encourage a culture of washing hands, and with over 84 percent of the population having access to safe water and thus making hand washing possible, Namibia has failed to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target of access to sanitation.
De Sousa said Namibia has one of the lowest levels of sanitation coverage in eastern and southern Africa.
“Only 34 percent of the population has access to proper toilet facilities, while half of the population practise open defecation,” she said.
She further said one out of five schools countrywide lacks toilet facilities, and that over 17 percent of children suffer from diarrhoea each year, while around half of under-five child deaths is caused by preventable and curable diseases, which are usually due to poor hygiene and sanitation.
She noted there is a link between poor hygiene practices and malnutrition, saying the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 50 percent of malnutrition cases are associated with repeated episodes of diarrhoea.
De Sousa thus noted that this is why it is of such importance that everyone makes washing of hands a habit, in order to prevent some of these sicknesses that might lead to death.
“Hand washing can effectively kill germs and reduce the incidence of diarrhoeic diseases by over 40 percent,” she said.
In a speech read on his behalf by the ministry’s Acting Deputy Permanent Secretary Petronella Masabane, the Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Bernard Haufiku, said Namibia has made significant strides to improve hygiene among many communities, but more still needs to be done.
He stressed that Namibia needs to do more as it’s one of the countries with a high level of poor sanitation facilities in the southern African region, with about 66 percent of the population estimated still to be without toilet facilities, while some use methods that are unhygienic.
“Here in the //Karas Region some communities are still using the bucket system for human refuse disposal and this is unacceptable as it may contribute to the spread of diseases,” he said, as he called on every Namibian to make washing of hands a habit.
The //Karas Regional Governor Lucia Basson also emphasised the importance of hand washing, saying the region has seen a decrease in the number of respiratory and diarrhoea related diseases since the introduction of a hand washing campaign back in 2008.
“Therefore it’s important to turn hand washing into a habit as prevention is better than cure,” she stated.
The 9th global hand washing day was commemorated at Keetmanshoop yesterday under the theme ‘Make hand washing a habit’.