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Kenya School Children Mark Global Handwashing Day

Song and dance filled the air when children from Kilifi in Kenya celebrated this year’s Global Handwashing Day on October 15, 2009. Kenya joined the rest of the world in marking Global Handwashing Day, an international event that was first celebrated in 2008 to drive handwashing behavior change on a scale never seen before, bringing the critical issue to center stage.
Of the approximately 120 million children born in the developing world each year, half will live in households without access to improved sanitation, at grave risk to their survival and development. Poor hygiene and lack of access to sanitation together contribute to about 88 percent of deaths from diarrheal diseases, accounting for 1.5 million diarrhea-related under-five deaths each year. Children suffer disproportionately from diarrheal and respiratory diseases and deaths. But research shows that children – the segment of society so often the most energetic, enthusiastic, and open to new ideas – can also be powerful agents of behavioral change.
The main highlight of the event in Kilifi was a handwashing demonstration by dignitaries using soap, at specially designed handwashing stations, that was led by Olivia Yambi, the Country Representative of UNICEF in Kenya. Children and traditional dancers entertained guests with poems, songs and dances, followed by speeches from government representatives and some sponsors of the event.
In his speech, Mr. Nimrod Waweru, who spoke on behalf of the Minister for Public Health and Sanitation said that each year, Kenya loses close to 30,000 lives as a result of diarrhea, which also causes 16 percent of deaths among children below the age of five years. “It is second only to pneumonia in causing the death of children under five years old, and millions of shillings are spent on treatment annually, yet the disease can be prevented if simple hygiene measures are observed at critical moments,” he said.
Mr. Japheth Mbuvi, Water and Sanitation Specialist with the Water and Sanitation Program, said that WSP and its partners are committed to ensure that people understand the importance of washing hands with soap as an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases. He then presented to the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation, copies of a report titled, Are your hands clean enough? A study finding on handwashing with soap behavior in Kenya, which looks at trends of behavior, barriers, and motivations for primary school children and community members. He also presented some bars of soap donated by Unilever Kenya Limited, to be distributed to schools in Kilifi.
WSP in partnership with UNICEF and the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation sponsored the event. Other sponsors were drawn from international and local NGOs and humanitarian organizations.