As Ghana joins the global community to mark five years of Global Handwashing Day (GHD) commemoration on Monday, October 15, 2012, Mrs. Theodora Adomako-Adjei, Extension Services Coordinator of the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA), has stated that hand washing is very critical and relevant in the country because of the kind of dishes Ghanaians like to cook and eat.
Since 2007, Global Handwashing Day, which focuses on the use of soap to wash hands in order to prevent diarrhoea, acute respiratory infections and other hygiene-related diseases, has been marked by many countries including Ghana.
Under the slogan “Clean hands save lives”, the driving theme for Global Handwashing Day has been children and schools, with children acting as agents of change and taking the good practices of hygiene learned at school back into their homes and communities.
The active participation and involvement of children, along with culturally sensitive community-based interventions, which have been the motivating force of GHD, aim at ensuring sustained behavioural change, while handwashing with soap – particularly at critical moments, including after using the toilet and before handling food, has been proven to be a key cost effective and life-saving intervention.
Speaking in an exclusive interview Sunday, October 14, 2012 on the significance of the day to Ghana, Mrs. Theodora Adomako-Adjei said; “In Ghana it is even critical because most of us like eating with our hands, because of the type of dishes that we cook. So when it comes to handling food we use our hands a lot.”
“Secondly, surfaces [transfer] to palms a lot of germs. It can be a door knob, even our computers, the ATM cards…people use their hands a lot so there is the need to create awareness,” she said.
“Look at the food that we eat – fufu, kenkey, banku and all those things – we don’t enjoy eating with fork and knife, so we have to eat with our hands – therefore we have to keep the hands very clean,” she added.
On why Ghana needs to mark the day with the rest of the global community, the Extension Services Coordinator indicated that apart from interventions at the community level, the national celebration gives visibility to the Global Handwashing Day and reminds people on the need to wash their hands with soap.
Global Handwashing Day commemoration in the country is further intended to put the spotlight on the state of hand washing in Ghana, Mrs. Theodora Adomako-Adjei stated further.
“Anyone who is not washing the hand at the critical time is a carrier of disease-causing pathogens and the person is spreading these germs, so everyone must watch out,” she said.
According to the CWSA Extension Services Coordinator, marking of the day for five years in Ghana has brought about behavioural change in most Ghanaians.
She said that whereas hitherto there were sinks in only some few communities, now there are innovative handwashing facilities in most toilets. “People are using gallons, water bottles – it is because of the awareness that has been created, and I also [say] the fact that now you have people with sanitisers wherever they go, means that they are understanding the importance of handwashing,” she explained.
Mrs. Adomako-Adjei also disclosed the findings of a study conducted by the United Nations organisation, UNICEF, in nine districts of the three northern regions of Ghana in 2003, which showed that only three percent of mothers washed their hands before handling food, she added however, that a recent study shows there has been a tremendous increase over that figure.
“In 2003 the study we conducted indicated that just about three percent of mothers washed their hands before handling food – and there has been an increase to 57 percent,” she said.
In Ghana, Global Handwashing Day will be commemorated with regional durbars and a national durbar at the Efua Sutherland Park, Accra, also referred to as the Children’s Park under the theme; “Five years of Global Handwashing Day Celebration: Going Beyond the Fifth Birthday of Children”. The global theme however, is “Help More Children Reach Their 5th Birthday”.
It will be chaired by Hon. Sherry Ayitey, Minister for Environment, Science and Technology, while the keynote address will be delivered by Mrs. Matilda Amissah-Arthur, Second Lady, Republic of Ghana.
Handwashing with soap is one of the most cost effective ways to prevent diarrhoea disease and pneumonia, which together are responsible for approximately 3.5 million child deaths every year, says a press release issued by the CWSA, the main organiser of the national durbar.
According to the agency, more than 5,000 children under the age of five die every day as a result of diarrhoea diseases, caused in part by unsafe drinking water, lack of access to basic sanitation facilities and poor hygiene.
Meanwhile, it has been established that by washing hands with soap, families and communities can help reduce child mortality rates from diarrhoea diseases by almost 50 per cent and respiratory infections by nearly 25 percent.
By Edmund Smith-Asante