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Marking Global Handwashing Day 2018

Published on: 18/01/2019

The Ministry of Water and Environment in Uganda organises the annual commemoration of Global Handwashing Day. IRC Uganda Country Office was there to document the highlights. 

The sun was at its zenith and the October heat at its most sweltering as multitudes marched to the sound of a band playing celebratory tunes. School children, politicians, civil servants, clergymen, and people from different parts of Kamwenge joined in the fete, to celebrate the 2018 Global Handwashing Day. Not that the 36.5% national average for handwashing is a big achievement, but that there is passion and energy to drive a common cause – handwashing a recipe for good health.

This year, the national commemoration event was in Kicwamba parish, Kamwenge District, selected because of their remarkable improvement in handwashing from less than 20% to over 50% in a matter of months. Initiated by Water for People in March 2018, the campaign in Kamwenge involved Catholic religious leaders who preached the message of hand washing to their congregation. By October 2018, the Rwenzori Catholic Diocese had embraced the message and were quickly spreading it beyond Kamwenge. Apart from the religious leaders, handwashing champions were also created in schools where teachers and pupils delivered messages in form of poems, songs, drama skits. Hosting the Global Handwashing Day event was therefore an opportunity for Kamwenge district to create more awareness, do more advocacy, and share lessons widely.

Throughout Uganda, handwashing has been high on the WASH sector agenda since 2008 when the first national steering committee was constituted. A great deal of time, financial and human resources has been invested in promoting hand washing with soap. Over the years, the practice among citizens has improved from 14% in 2008, to 36.5% in 2018. That is no mean achievement given how hard it is to change deeply engrained behaviours like poor hygiene practices. In that spirit, every year MWE organizes a global hand washing day commemoration – to celebrate achievements, reflect on challenges, renew energy and motivation, and to continue spreading the message.

Speaking about the importance of the event, Joseph Eyatu, Commissioner Rural Water Department in the Ministry of Water and Environment said, "The global hand washing day is celebrated throughout the world in order to highlight the state of hand washing practice and to solicit support from policy makers, private sector actors, development partners and civil society. It is also intended to remind us about our responsibility in hygiene promotion and to recruit more hand washing ambassadors."

The 2018 commemoration attracted the Minister of State for Water, Ronald Kibuule who also noted that the national handwashing rate of 36.5% was still low. He emphasized that many children under five die from diseases which could be prevented if people practiced proper hygiene like washing their hands with soap. "A simple action of washing hands with soap at critical times can reduce diarrhoea by 47% and acute respiratory disease by 25%," Kibuule noted. He restated the government's commitment to support household hygiene and sanitation by providing clean and safe water to all citizens.

Also in attendance were Kamwenge district political leaders, led by the district Chairman Aggrey Natuhamya. He noted that the successful promotion of handwashing in his district was related to the improvement in water coverage, which now stands at 66%. He expressed gratitude to the WASH organisations that had partnered with Kamwenge District Local Government , including Water For People, Joint Effort to Save the Environment (JESE), Health through Water and Sanitation (HEWASA), Royal Springs, Unicef and UNHCR.

On the part of civil society organisations, Yunia Musaazi the Executive Director of Uganda Water and Sanitation NGO Network (UWASNET) and Cate Nimanya, the Country Director of Water for People both reiterated the unwavering commitment of CSOs to continuously improve water sanitation and hygiene services and practices, until the country attains SDG6 in 2030. Musaazi noted that in 2017/18, CSOs had contributed 25% of the sector budget, while Nimanya called for increased collaboration and partnership between all actors in order to take the sector to higher achievements.

As the celebration came to a climax, the general conviction was that all actors need to remain mindful of the greater job that lies ahead. "The poems and dances performed here carry good messages. The speakers have delivered their message and made their commitments, but this should not stop here in Kamwenge," said Martha Naigaga the Sanitation Coordinator in the Ministry of Water and Environment. "The increment in handwashing, from 14% in 2008 to 36.5% in 2018 is praiseworthy, but with only 12 years until the end of the SDGs framework, there's need for accelerated action. Where citizens show willingness to change, there's need to follow them up to sustain their newly-acquired handwashing behaviours," she added, calling for increased monitoring and follow up to promote handwashing at household level and in other public places.

The Assistant District Water Officer (ADWO) of Kamwenge, Michael Byamukama said, while there is need for more water and handwashing facilities, the attitudes need to be right. People need to be sensitized and supported to develop the right attitude towards handwashing with soap.

Watch the video here