The Global Hand Washing Day 2020 was celebrated today with pomp and heavy representation form both government and private sector. Starting off with mellow tunes from Maroon Commandoes, the celebrations went into high gear with opening speeches from the events host and CEO of Amref Health Services Dr. Gitahi Githinji. His welcome remarks were followed by speaker after speaker highlighting the vital role of hand washing and the need to elevate it, democratize it, educate about it, replicate its success and sustain the initiatives.
Leading in advocating for the elevation of hand washing, Her Excellency the First Lady Margaret Kenyatta noted hand washing has major significance beyond health and hygiene terming it as a first line defense in safeguarding our lives. “We should embrace and change how we think about health; hand washing has been seen as something obvious despite being a game changing solution” said the First Lady.
She added, hand washing is one of the most effective and simplest interventions and one that must be implemented noting this global advocacy campaign draws attention to everyone accessing clean water as a universal and basic human right. Further, It reinforces political will and commitment for the provision of water to every Kenyan as part of the Government’s universal health agenda said the First Lady.
Recognizing the efforts of the private sector, the First Lady congratulated the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sectors for their role in advocacy, community engagement to bring about behavior change and creation of infrastructure that reinforces hand washing. “These partners have helped accelerate Governments efforts to greatly reduce the burden of disease, reminding us of our own individual and collective responsibilities.”
In closing, the First Lady symbolically washed her hands while echoing the #Nimenawa slogan that together with H is for Hand washing are the rallying calls to drive home the Hand Hygiene For All theme of the 2020 Global Hand Washing Day.
Health CS Mutahi Kagwe’s in his speech read by Health CAS Dr. Mercy Mwangangi noted Covid-19 highlighted the state of hand washing in Kenya affirming that when you wash your hands you are administering yourself as a vaccine. The CS added engraining the correct culture remains a critical milestone for the government as while hand washing is an individual activity, it works best when done collectively, consistently and correctly.
CAS Health Dr. Mercy Mwangangi in her remarks thanked all the partners for their sustained efforts terming Covid-19’s silver lining as the increased focus on community health designed to promote and prevent diseases. She added, “Resoundingly important is how do we sustain this; how best do we communicate and how our collective efforts create synergies around the hand washing interventions”
According to Dr. Mwangangi, critical to the success of our efforts is in creating interconnections between the various interventions. Noting hand washing success does not end at the hand washing station; questions need to be asked on what else is missing in the bigger picture, who needs to be incorporated, what else we should be doing as we deploy our hand washing strategies. Using the analogy of nothing in a caterpillar indicates it will be a butterfly, she challenged stakeholder to think long term and outside the box by connecting the dots that will help elevate the program and achieve set milestones.
Dr. Mwangangi’s sentiments were echoed by the CAS Ministry of Water, Sanitation and Irrigation Dr. Andrew Tuimur called for action from all WASH partners to continue the fight against communicable diseases. “We need to get all Kenyan’s access to hand washing facilities and soap and this can be best achieved through government and public sector partnerships” he observed.
“Hand washing must become second nature” said Dr. Tuimur terming it not only as a hygiene practice but also a disease prevention behaviour and in this regard his ministry and the Ministry of Education are developing WASH requirements prior to resumption of classes.
With the call to elevate the status of sanitization, Dr. Tuimur noted the space had not been getting the desired attention; however the ministry has now created a Department of Sanitization to reposition, elevate and sustain sanitization and hand washing now it has been brought back to focus.
Prof. Myriam Sidibe the co-founder of the GHWD and NBCC Chair termed this 13th edition of the celebrations as the world’s largest mass activation thanks to Covid-19. She commended the brands that have supported the cause terming them as change making and an indication of the potential of the private sector when they collaborate.
Thanking all the partners who made this day a success, she observed the strides made are part of a longer journey that will need to be reinforced by collaboration, policy implementation, strategy development and partnerships all working towards achieving the set milestones.
UNICEF Country Representative Mr. Jean Lokenga said his organization is working with the Ministry of Education on matters hygiene as it seeks to fundraise for masks, 850 hand washing stations and soap. Thus far UNICEF’s partnership with Rotary has availed water and hygiene facilities to over 400 rural schools countrywide. Further working with Map Wash international, they have been able to monitor usage of the said facilities using digital tools and convert that monitoring to data that informs subsequent interventions.
Amref Health Africa Country Director Dr. Meshak Ndirangu noted the day ought to remind us of the glaring benefits of hand washing. He noted a US$ 3 investment in hand washing is equivalent to US$ 11 spent on latrines and US$ 230 spent on Household water facilitation.
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