Hand Washing as a Preventative Measure
Washing hands with soap and water could prevent almost 4 million children a year from dying before their fifth birthday. This is because encouraging hand washing within the house interrupts the spread of diarrheal pathogens through hand-to-hand contact or via food. It’s particularly important in a house with children under the age of five, who are more vulnerable to the spread of infectious disease.
In two recent studies, based within real communities in Pakistan and China, hand washing was shown to reduce the incidence of diarrheal disease by 47% and respiratory infections by 16%. The clinical trials took place in schools and measured the incidence of sickness and death among children who had been provided with a simple hand-washing promotion programme. Children who had taken part in the programme had far fewer absences from school and their families reported far less sickness within the family, particularly among vulnerable infants.
The conclusion of the trial in Pakistan was that in a setting in which diarrhea is the leading cause of child death, an improvement in hand washing within the household reduced the incidence of diarrhea among children at high risk of death from diarrhea.