Having a place to poo is important. However, behaviour surrounding toilet activities, particularly hand washing, can be just as significant as having a toilet to begin with.
The WASH sector (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) often focuses on the hardware of toilets, pipes and drains, but access to hardware isn’t everything. The ‘H’ is a key part of improving health through WASH, because without hand washing people will quite literally continue eating shit. Fecal matter travels easily to hands after defecation and, without hand washing, can then travel easily to food or other surfaces.
The story by stats
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 gram of poo (think the weight of a paperclip) can contain 1 trillion (1,000,000,000) germs. Hand washing can prevent spreading those germs and decrease illness: evidence shows that proper hand washing can reduce incidence of diarrhea by 30%. With 500,000 children dying each year from diarrhea, related to poor quality water and sanitation (WaterAid, n.d.), hand washing (with soap!) is a simple step for reducing those deaths.
Hand washing can also contribute to reducing children’s absence from school by decreasing the amount of time they’re sick. Programs that promote hand washing, provide soap and put in place peer hand washing champions have been shown to lead to 54% fewer days of school absence. And that sickness isn’t limited to diarrhea – other health issues, like respiratory illness, skin infections, and intestinal worm infections, can also be decreased with hand washing.
Of course, knowing about the risks of dirty hands and actually washing them isn’t the same thing. Behavior change is a huge part of preventative health, and it’s often the most difficult step to implement. Just ask any smoker or chocoholic. That’s why Manavta’s engaging educational programs, which encourage positive hygiene-related behavior change among students, are a key part of what we do.
So next time you finish up your daily constitutional or hang out with your pet chicken, don't forget to wash your hands before you make food or hold hands with that special someone!