Nearly half of rural families believe that children’s feces are cleaner than animal or adult excrement, which could put more people at risk of contracting diarrheal disease, a common killer of children under the age of 5, according to a study released Wednesday.
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and WaterSHED, an NGO that focuses on hygiene and sanitation in Cambodia, conducted surveys on excrement disposal in 2013 and 2014 in Kompong Speu and Battambang provinces.
The authors of the report interviewed 130 households with at least one child under the age of 5 to find out how the families disposed of the child’s waste.
According to the report, 98 percent of those surveyed thought children’s excrement was cleaner than that of adults, 43 percent believed it was cleaner than animal waste and 35 percent thought it was cleaner than dirt. The report said, however, that this is a misconception and children’s feces are actually even more prone to carrying diseases than adult feces.
“Children’s faeces are more likely to contain enteric pathogens than those of adults, and open defecation by young children contaminates the household environment, a key site for diarrheal disease transmission for children,” it said, citing several academic research papers.
Diarrheal disease is the second leading cause of deaths worldwide in children under 5 years old, killing about 760,000 each year, according to data published by the World Health Organization in 2013.
Lindsay Voigt, a co-author of the report and WaterSHED’s behavior change specialist, said the perception that child feces are cleaner means that more people are willing to handle them.
“They may also be less vigilant of hand washing after handling child feces,” Ms. Voigt said, adding that unwashed hands can spread diarrheal disease.
The report says 80 percent of those surveyed said they wash their hands after cleaning feces off their child. “However, in the spot checks there was often no soap present around water sources,” it adds.
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