Hand-Washing Campaign Battles Child Mortality

New figures from Unicef reveal that up to 2,000 children die every year in Cambodia as a result of diarrheal infections caused by poor sanitation, unsafe drinking water and a lack of basic hygiene practices.

In a statement released to coincide with Sunday’s Global Hand­washing Day, Unicef said that properly washing hands re­mains one of the most simple but ef­fective ways to prevent such infections and reduce child mortality.

“The simple act of hand-washing with soap is one of the most effective ways to save children’s lives,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, global head of Unicef’s water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs, which together with NGOs, the government, private sector companies and the Global Public-Private Partnership for Hand-washing with Soap are trying to inculcate the habit.

“Washing hands before and after eating and after defecation drastically reduces the spread of diarrheal disease and has far reaching effects on the health and welfare of children and communities,” Mr. Wijesekera said.

Currently, Unicef estimates that as many as 1,400 children under 5 die every day across the world from diarrheal disease. But apart from the direct impact diarrheal infections have on early childhood mortality—the second largest cause globally of death among children under 5—such infections also carry associated risks that can seriously impact upon a child’s future health.

Stunting is an endemic problem for Cambodian children that as well as limiting physical stature can leave organs, including the brain, less de­veloped and prone to illness. According to a study released by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization this year, 40 percent of children in Cambodia under the age of 5 are stunted.

To bring the hand-washing message home to Cambodian families, this year’s initiative will launch a multimedia campaign aimed at children that includes television and radio spots with mobile phone and social media activities with the slogan: “I’m Smart! I Wash My Hands with Soap.”

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