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The Importance of Hand Washing in Developing Countries

Hands cupping dirty water

For years, water scarcity has been a reality for underdeveloped nations and their populations. In many third world countries, water sources are few and far between. Limited access to water leads to extreme conditions, affecting the economy, education system, and overall health of the people. It is not uncommon for those living in underdeveloped countries to share their water sources with animals. The water that humans are using to drink, cook, and clean themselves and their homes is infected with harmful bacteria and diseases like: E Coli, cholera, Hepatitis A, trachoma, Guinea worm disease and typhoid[1], often referred to as NTDs or Neglected Tropical Diseases.

It is not only lack of access to clean water that is resulting in adverse health effects, but also insufficient sanitation systems and education about proper hygiene routines. In 2015, the World Health Organization set a five year plan for eliminating many of these water-borne illnesses by strengthening WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) strategies in high-risk countries where neglected tropical diseases are present. Among these strategies was the need to improve hand washing efforts through education and on-site demonstration. The CDC conducted research about the prevalence of disease both before and after weekly hand washing promotion, as well as hand soap supply and availability. They found that there were about 50% fewer diarrheal and respiratory infections in children compared to households that did not receive any intervention[2].

Saving lives starts with soap and water. Proper hand washing can prevent the spread of disease, and education is the first step in fostering healthier communities within developing countries. In order to affect a significant impact, strong partnerships of organizations like the CDC and WHO with action groups, government officials and businesses are vital in carrying out this ever-important mission. These organizations' educational efforts are targeted towards schools because hygiene habits are taught during childhood. Reports have shown that hand washing with soap decreased school absenteeism attributed to disease by 40-50% globally[3]. Aside from providing access to clean water, education about the need for hand washing habits is the first step to initiate change.

Charity: water, a nonprofit organization headquartered in New York City, advocates strongly for the importance of hand washing. Their mission has led them to travel to many different countries learning about the water crisis and funding close to 25,000 water projects thus far. Unique to their organization, charity: water is known for recounting testimonies of those who live and experience the water crisis every day. Among these testimonies is that of a 12-year-old girl named Hadjara who learned about hand washing in school. She was then able to pass that knowledge on to her family, thereby allowing them to live longer, healthier lives[4].

The Global Hand Washing Partnership, composed of governmental and non-profit organizations, has also made a significant impact on the world water crisis through education and intervention. Their campaign is centered around Global Hand Washing Day, which falls on October 15th every year. The day is used to promote the efficacy of hand washing as it pertains to disease prevention, presenting it as an easy and cost-efficient tool. Through the work of charity: water, the Global Hand Washing Partnership, and others like it, health conditions are improving around the world. As we approach Global Hand Washing Day this week, it is crucial that we educate ourselves on the enormity of the water crisis issue so that we can then ask ourselves what we can do to help. 

Stay tuned for the next blog that explores specific hand washing campaigns being completed in developing nations!


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