Day 101: The simple power of hand-washing

6.6 million under five years old succumb to childhood disease each year. 600,00 of those kids can be saved by a bar of soap. Today’s instalment in my 365 Days of ted challenge is a post about Myriam Sidibe’s ted talk “The simple power of handwashing.”

Myriam kicks off her Ted talk with a pretty grim analogy.  She asks her audience to imagine that a plane is about to crash. On that plane are 250 kids and babies. Would you stop that plane crash if you knew how, she asks?  Going even deeper into this morbid analogy, Myriam asks us to image that sixty of these planes filled of kids under five years old crash every single day.

What’s the point behind this awful analogy? Well Myriam informs us that 6.6 million children don’t make it to their fifth birthday and most of their deaths are attributed to diarrhoea and pneumonia – preventable diseases.  So what’s the preventable measures that can significantly reduce the death count of kids under five? It’s handwashing.  Myriam says that this simple habit which is taken from granted can save 600,000 kids a year, or going back to the analogy ten planes full of kids crashing a day.

So why don’t people wash their hands

It would be easy to think that the lack of hand washing is only present in countries were child mortality is very high, but statistics show that it really is a global issue.  Did you know that globally four out of five people don’t wash their hands after using the toilet? I have no explanations why people from countries  with the luxury of running water and never ending supplies of soap choose not to wash their hands, but Myriam offers us a reason why families from developing countries don’t wash their hands.

Myriam shares a story about a young boy she met in India called Mayank. Mayank’s family used soap in the home for bathing, washing laundry and washing the dishes. Soap is treated like a precious commodity and stored away from Mayank so he doesn’t become wasteful with it. In Mayank’s family using soap to cleanse hands only happens once a day, although at times it can be a weekly occurrence. Myriam says that the result of this is that children pick up diseases in the home.

How to make a difference

Children learn their hand-washing habits from their parents.  Teach your children the importance of hand-washing from when they are very young. Don’t make it a chore, make it a part of life.  You can also help support the public health intervention of hand washing on a global scale. Myriam is part of an organization called Global Handwashing Day which celebrates handwashing with soap each year on October 15th. Their website lists a number ways to get involved and has educational resources.

I also found a brilliant organisation called Global Soap Project that takes partially used soaps from  150,ooo hotel rooms across America and recycles it into new bars of soap to distribute  through global health programs to get the soap into the hands of people who lack access. A $25 donation can provide a years supply of soap to seven people.

Vanessa Rose