Handwashing saves lives in Gaza
In a context like Gaza where water is scarce and 96% of the coastal aquifer is unfit for human consumption, adopting personal hygiene habits is key. Starting and maintaining such habits for at least 21 days can save children’s lives. Studies show that handwashing promotion may reduce incidence of diarrhoea by a staggering 30%. However, less is known about how to help people maintain hand washing habits in the longer term (Cochrane, 2015).
Terre des hommes (Tdh) is working on creating such habits with school-children and documenting results. First Tdh renovated hundreds of water and sanitation facilities that were destroyed during the 2014 war on Gaza, thus ensuring water and soap are available in schools. Second, the Swiss child relief agency developed and tested an innovation on mobile devices that can be used by teachers, parents and children themselves to promote handwashing. Third, Tdh is working in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University and GRID Impact, and is poised to receive funding from UNICEF to evaluate behaviour change.
In a massive handwashing campaign that started on 12 October, Tdh is targeting up to 16’000 school-going children across the Gaza strip. The campaign centred around Global Handwashing Day on 15 October. To date, 8’793 children have actively engaged in the campaign.
Four additional Tdh hygiene promotion staff were hired to go around schools in Gaza using various innovative methods such as “Play Nazeef”, an innovative App on Google Play, clowns going around school and involving children in actively participating in handwashing, students and teachers showing good handwashing practice in class.
One of the girls that used the “Play Nazeef” app in one of the test sessions said enthusiastically: “I will tell my sisters, my mother and everyone about my experience today. It’s unforgettable!”.
With school children, handwashing is being promoted like a "do-it-yourself" vaccine—it involves five simple and effective steps (wet with good quality water, lather, scrub, rinse, dry). Regular handwashing, particularly before and after certain activities, is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs to others. It's quick, it's simple, and it can keep all children from getting sick. Handwashing is a win for everyone, except germs! In fact it may well be the most cost-effective way of saving lives in emergencies.