Handwashing and its Effect on Mother, Child’s Health

Martins Ifijeh

In many parts of Nigeria, it is common to gift a new mother soaps, cleaning liquids and so on. It is presumed that there would be a lot of cleaning done for mother and child and as such, it has become a culture of sorts.

As a matter of fact, in Yoruba, the greeting is “E ku owo l’omi”, loosely translated thus: “happy dipping hand in water.” That in a way shows how much tradition understands the importance of good hygiene in the home, especially around mother and child.

“The biggest danger to babies is other people’s hands,” writes an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, Ken Haller on parents.com, a child development website.

These “other people” include the new parents themselves, as well as family and friends, who in fact have good intentions but are unwitting carriers of life-threatening germs and bacteria.

Every day, people are exposed to all sorts of germs in the course of their daily life, from handling currency notes, to opening doors to shaking hands with other people.

It is assumed that each person carries an average of 3,200 species of bacteria on their hands. Transferring those germs to a baby whose own immune system is still in the process of forming, can be fatal.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 6000 children die every day from hygiene related illnesses. As shocking as that is, it is more shocking that preventing that grave statistics only takes a simple process – handwashing.

Hand hygiene is the single most important and effective way to prevent germs from being transmitted from one person to another, and especially to a new born baby. For many new mothers, it has become a matter of compulsion that guests coming to visit them must practice good hand hygiene.

Many women insist that visitors wash their hands before interacting with their babies. Nollywood actress Funke Akindele-Bello, who was recently announced as the Dettol Brand Ambassador to lead the Clean Naija initiative, also recognises the importance of this.

As a new mother herself (her twin baby boys are six months old), she says she takes hygiene seriously to prevent bacterial infection in and around her home.

At her unveiling event last month, Akindele-Bello spoke glowingly about the Clean Naija initiative that seeks to raise more awareness among Nigerians about the importance of good hygiene.

“As a new mother, I know the pain of seeing your child run ordinary temperature, not to talk of losing the child to diseases such as diarrhea or malaria.

“This partnership is important to sensitise Nigerians on the health benefits of adopting hygienic practices as simple as hand washing at all times.

“Practicing proper hand washing and basic hygiene can play an important part in preventing diarrhea among children, which is responsible for the death of about 150,000 children in Nigeria every year,” she said.

She also added: “It takes a lot of hard work to take care of young children and sometimes it seems like the load is too much, but when it comes to taking precaution to ensure that our kids are healthy and sound, there’s no length that a mother cannot go.

“That’s why I’m proud of this opportunity where I will be able to work with Dettol and help in sharing some of my experiences and the lessons I have learned so far from taking care of my little children.

“I believe that this program will be able to encourage many Nigerians to adopt hygienic practices that would improve their health and quality of life. I’m looking forward to playing my part.”

In celebration of the World Hand Hygiene Day, Dettol took the Clean Naija initiative to the stalls of Ojuwoye Market, Mushin, where their newly commissioned handwash site was launched by Akindele-Bello, who preached the need for women and mothers, who mostly make up the population of traders at Ojuwoye market, to imbibe the habit of washing their hands thoroughly, especially since they touch the edible elements that go into homes and make up what the families eventually eat.

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