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Kicking off Ethiopia's hand washing campaign

Published on: 10/12/2020

On Global Hand Washing Day, Ethiopia kicked off a one-month hand washing campaign.

The Amhara Region celebrated Global Hand Washing Day on November 19, 2020 in Finoteselam town with the theme “I wash my hands and save lives”. The event was organised by the Amhara Region Health Bureau.

''only 5% in Ethiopia’s population practice proper hand washing''- Wale Belayneh, the Public Relations Director at the Amhara Region Health Bureau

To open the Global Hand Washing Day celebration, Wale Belayneh, the Public Relations Director at the Amhara Region Health Bureau, welcomed participants from different government sector offices as well as development partners. In his keynote speech, he mentioned that studies show only 20% of the population globally and only 5% of Ethiopia’s population practice proper hand washing. A WHO/UNICEF report from 2019 shows only 40% of the population globally has hand washing facilities at home. In Ethiopia, 92% of people do not have hand washing facilities, 80% of them living in rural areas.

Mr. Belayneh highlighted that although the COVID-19 pandemic brought a major challenge to the world, it is also an opportunity to improve hand washing by providing an important reminder that hand hygiene can significantly reduce the transmission of communicable diseases, improve health, and help improve the socio-economic status of a society. That is what makes this year’s global hand washing day different from the previous.

He continued his speech noting that hand washing is a simple but impactful intervention that can reduce the transmission of diseases. For example, diarrhoea can be reduced by 40% with hand washing. In general, the practice reduces medical costs, increases school attendance, and increases economic productivity.

According to Kindie Alebachew, the Amhara Region Health Bureau WASH team leader, the toilet coverage of Amhara Region is 70.2%, with 32% being improved. Forty percent of the population has a hand washing facility and 60% of the population have clean water supply. Thirty-six percent of health care facilities, 49% of health posts, and 37.5% of offices in the region have toilets with handwashing facilities. Related to this, only 59.5% of health centres and 8.9% of health posts have a water supply. According to a Ministry of Education (MoE) report, 39% of schools have a water supply, but only 60% of these schools have toilets with a handwashing facility.

It was mentioned that COVID-19 pandemic initiatives initially increased hand washing, but the public quickly went back to the norm in-terms of practicing the necessary precautions and procedures released by the MoE, WHO, and regional bureaus.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS), as part of the Millennium Water Alliance Sustainable WASH Project (MWA SWP), presented their experience of the Clean Clinic Model (CCM) implemented in North Mecha in Wotet Abay, one of the SWP intervention woredas. CCM uses a 10-step process to support health care facilities in making incremental, effective cleanliness and infection prevention and control improvements, without relying on external investments. This has been discussed as a best experience to be replicated in other districts of the region.

In summary, the next action steps are to think beyond a one-month campaign and ensure sustained hand washing practices, increase community and public sensitisation and awareness creation, include hand washing action plans in sectors’ strategic plans, support market based sanitation initiatives, empower enterprises, support innovation and technology improvements on hand washing facilities, support availing hand washing facility initiatives in institutions, improve government’s leadership and commitment on increased financial resources for sanitation and hygiene facilities.

Lastly, a facilitated discussion and reflection on the challenges, why the public is back to normal and how to re-engage them, forgotten health precautions, and COVID-19 prevention instructions from health authorities, was held. Development partners were acknowledged for their unreserved efforts to support COVID-19 prevention initiatives as well as hand washing event support. Certificates were given to a number of organisations including MWA, IRC WASH, and Food for the Hungry from the MWA SWP consortium.