UNITED NATIONS – The UN Children's Fund said that more than 300,000 children under five died globally from diarrheal diseases linked to limited access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene in 2015, a rate of more than 800 per day.
With cholera spreading fast in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, and with a new outbreak in war-ravaged Yemen, UNICEF urges children, families and communities to make washing hands with soap a habit to help prevent the spread of diseases.
On the eve of Global Handwashing Day, UNICEF said that many of these deaths could have been prevented through the simple act of handwashing with soap.
“Every year, 1.4 million children are dying from largely preventable diseases like pneumonia and diarrhea," said UNICEF's global head of water, sanitation and hygiene, Sanjay Wijesekera. "These are staggering numbers, but they could be greatly reduced by working with children and families to adopt a very straightforward solution -- handwashing."
“We know, for example, that handwashing with soap before meals and after using the toilet could reduce the incidence of diarrheal infections by 40 percent," the UNICEF official said.
Proper handwashing practice also contributes to the healthy development of children by keeping them in school. Handwashing actually improves school attendance by reducing the spread of preventable diseases, which means children are not staying home because of illness.
"Handwashing just makes sense as a frontline preventive measure to keep children safe from disease -- it's simple, cost effective and a proven lifesaver," Wijesekera said.
In Haiti, a country with poor water and sanitation infrastructure and a persistent cholera outbreak, suspected cholera cases and acute diarrhea have increased sharply since the Oct. 4 hurricane.
“This is everyone's worst nightmare," said Marc Vincent, the UNICEF representative in Haiti. "Less than two weeks after the hurricane, cholera may be spreading in areas where it previously barely existed and diarrhea is preying on already vulnerable children. Immediate action is essential -- children's health is at risk."*PNA
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