By Feenzu Sherpa

Hygiene promotion is an integrated programme aimed at bringing improved water and sanitation behaviours for healthier lives while also reducing risky health/hygiene practices among people. Effective hygiene promotion can be considered the most valuable tool to reduce diarrhoeal diseases, among other several preventable causes of child mortality.

According to a statistic by World Health Organization (WHO), more than 1.7 million preventable deaths a year are attributable to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene.

Family Welfare Division (FWD) of the Ministry of Health and Population, Nepal has introduced rotavirus vaccine in the routine childhood immunization programme this year to combat against rotavirus – a virus that causes one-third of severe diarrhoeal disease in children below five-years-old. The inclusion of vaccine against rotavirus ensures that children in Nepal would now be protected against 12 vaccine-preventable diseases.

Similarly, hygiene partner for the drive, WaterAid Nepal, formed a partnership with FWD to respond to the need for hygiene promotion and immunisation integration, at a time when the world is battling with the COVID-19 pandemic.

FWD and WaterAid Nepal have chosen health posts as points-of-contact for hygiene promotion because new parents bring their infants to the health posts at least five times during the first nine months of their birth for routine immunization – making health post the best place to provide hygiene awareness to parents.

Health post officials are trained to equip parents with proper hygiene measures such as nutritional facts and risky hygiene behaviours.

Anita Timilsina, a health official at Bhaktapur-based Katunje Health Post, informed that a group is formed among the parents who visit for routine immunization and they are taught about proper hygiene behaviours.

The hygiene promotion program prioritises five key hygiene behaviours such as exclusive breastfeeding, food hygiene, handwashing with soap, HHs water and milk treatment, and hygienic use of toilet; child faeces disposal.

With the intent of making people easily and effectively understand hygiene behaviours, trained health post officials lay out various games and interactions with new parents.

In one such game, officials make parents wear happy and sad face masks. The person wearing a happy-faced mask performs good hygiene behaviour while the person wearing a sad-faced mask perform risky hygiene behaviour. The parents are also provided with posters that display hygienic behaviour in the pictures, backed up by a few simple words in the local language.

“As the people of the city are well aware of good hygiene behaviour, it is not that difficult to make them understand. However, in rural areas, hygiene behaviours can be difficult to teach. It can be quite challenging to make the people of rural areas change their behaviour,” said Timilsina.

Proper hygiene behaviours can elude rural communities due to the lack of problem identification. For instance, latrine inside a house is still considered taboo in many remote areas of Nepal. Similarly, clean water is not conveniently available in such places.

Data from IRC Wash shows that 60 per cent of the population of the developing countries, amounting to some 2.4 billion people, have no access to hygienic means of personal sanitation – 1.1 billion of them do not even have access to a supply of safe drinking water.

Involving the community in better hygiene behaviour will help in finding water and sanitation systems that are appropriate for women, children and men, as well as people of different socio-economic groups while taking the current technology and local designs, maintenance and financing management hand-in-hand.