World Hand Washing Day is October 15,celebrated by over 200 million people in over 100 countries worldwide. The day is an important reminder that diarrheal and acute respiratory infections, responsible for the majority of child deaths worldwide, can be prevented by proper and regular hand washing.
At HAS, we regularly educate people about the importance of good hygiene. This past Tuesday, we’ve doubled our efforts and joined the world movement to emphasize the importance of hand washing to people in Haiti in recognition of World Hand Washing Day.
We began the day at our four community health centers. There, nurses led educational sessions with patients and their families. At the Deschapelles health center, nurse Gertie said repeatedly: “Washing hands with clean water and soap gives us power over sickness.” She underscored that even if hands do not appear to be dirty, they may carry bacteria that can cause illness; therefore, it is necessary to wash multiple times per day, especially before eating and after handling dirt or waste. She also reminded the crowd about washing fruits and vegetables before consuming them: “If a mango falls to the ground, it has bacteria and dirt on it,” she said, “You may be hungry, but you must wash it before eating. Think first about your life, not just your hunger.”
By mid-morning, the life-saving message of the importance of hand washing was being spread to primary school children. Dressed in their uniforms and on their best behavior, they watched as Renold Estime, Department Head of Wells & Water at HAS, constructed a simple hand washing station called a “tippy tap.” Tippy taps are made of simple, affordable materials – a few sticks, a string, and a plastic jug. Using a foot pedal, anyone can wash their hands without the added help of another person to pour the water over one’s hands (virtually no one in our service area has running water). Renold encouraged the kids to build tippy taps at home as the kids raced to the front of the line to wash their hands.
Back at the hospital, Jeanne, the most veteran employee at HAS, led several hand washing demonstrations. Jeanne focused on preventing diarrheal diseases such as cholera, which surfaced in Haiti exactly three years ago (October 2010). She described to patients how diarrheal diseases dehydrate a person and take away important salts and sugars. Jeanne sang a song to help participants remember the steps of hand washing and invited volunteers to come up to wash their hands while encouraging others to join in song, making the process participatory and helping the message to “stick.”
That afternoon, Renold and Jeanne joined forced at the nutrition annex, the area of the hospital where children under age five recover from malnutrition. Jeanne led the talk and demonstration, and sang to the gathering of children perched on their mothers’ laps. The activities moved outside where the crowd watched Renold and his crew construct a tippy tap, then each took turns washing their hands and the hands of their children. Using bars of soap as prizes, Renold led the group in a lively round of handwashing trivia. The children pulled on Global Hand Washing Day t-shirts and mothers who hadn’t yet received soap were also given a bar.
HAS is proud to join the world every October 15th to celebrate Global Hand Washing Day, and to promote proper hand washing every day of the calendar year. Preventive care has and always will be a foundational aspect of our healthcare model. Hooray for hygiene!