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Handwashing: How Nigeria squandered success before COVID-19 struck – UNICEF

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NIGERIA blew away a chance to make at least 30 per cent of its citizens have access to handwashing facilities in 2019, months before the emergence of COVID-19.

Rather than move upward from the 23 per cent success rate it achieved in 2018, the nation slipped to 16 per cent the following year. 

In a message to commemorate this year’s Global Handwashing Day, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) said three in five people in the country were without basic handwashing facilities in their homes to help them fight infectious diseases, especially COVID-19 which had claimed millions of lives globally and wreaked havoc on nations’ economies.

Nigeria’s current population is 213 million, according to the National Population Commission.

Given UNICEF’s data, about 84 million people in the nation may not have access to basic handwashing facilities.

Handwashing facilities are not only lacking in homes in Nigeria but hospitals and schools. 

Four in five health facilities in the country lack the facilities, and nine out of 10 schools have no place for children to wash their hands. 

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Deputy Representative of UNICEF Nigeria Rushnan Murtaza said the downward trend in access to hand hygiene services in Nigeria “is very worrying.” 

 “Handwashing with soap and water may seem like a simple act – but it is lifesaving. It protects us from many diseases, including cholera. We must work together to make handwashing not only possible but a habit. This will have a hugely positive impact on the health and well-being of all Nigerians,” Murtaza stresses.

The UNICEF noted that although handwashing with soap was critical in the fight against infectious diseases, including COVID-19, only 16 per cent of Nigerian homes had basic handwashing facilities, leaving families and communities at risk of many infectious diseases, with children particularly vulnerable.

 Globally, around three in 10 people – or 2.3 billion – do not have handwashing facilities with water and soap available at home, the agency said, adding that the situation was worst in the least developed countries, with more than six in 10 people living without access to basic hand hygiene.

UNICEF’s Wash, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Director Kelly Ann Naylor explained that global response efforts to curb COVID-19 pandemic had created an unprecedented time for hand hygiene.

 Yet, progress remained far too slow for the most vulnerable, underserved communities, Ann noted.

 “Hand hygiene cannot be viewed as a temporary provision to manage COVID-19. Further long-term investment in water, sanitation and hygiene can help prevent the next health crisis from coming. It also means fewer people falling ill with respiratory infections, fewer children dying from diarrheal diseases, and more pregnant mothers and newborns protected from preventable conditions like sepsis,” Ann stressed.

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The latest data show that some progress has been made since 2015. For example, the global population with access to basic hand hygiene at home has increased from five billion to 5.5 billion, or from 67 per cent to 71 per cent of the people. 

However, if current trends persist, 1.9 billion people will still not have access to basic hand hygiene by the end of the decade.

 According to the data, 670 million people live without any facility across the world.

Four in 10 schools worldwide do not have basic hygiene services with water and soap, affecting 818 million students, of which 462 million attend schools with no facility at all. 

 One in three healthcare facilities worldwide does not have hand hygiene facilities at points of care where the patient, healthcare worker, and treatment involve contact with the patient. 

UNICEF urged governments to commit to providing hand hygiene, not as a temporary response to COVID-19, but as an investment in public health and economic resilience. 

The latest joint UNICEF and WHO report identifies five accelerators that can enable governments to rapidly scale up access to hand hygiene, including good governance, smart public finance, capacity building, consistent data, and innovation.

If you or someone you know has a lead, tip or personal experience about this report, our WhatsApp line is open and confidential for a conversation

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