Why it is important
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Young children are more vulnerable than any other age group to the ill effects of unsafe water, poor sanitation and lack of hygiene. These contribute to 88 per cent of deaths from diarrhoeal diseases. Children under 5 years old account for nearly 90 per cent of deaths from diarrhoea.
The simple habit of handwashing with soap is estimated to reduce the incidence of diarrhoea by nearly half. It also greatly reduces the risk of respiratory infections such as pneumonia and other diseases, including eye infections, especially trachoma.
Parents and caregivers should wash their hands with soap and water at these critical moments: (1) after cleaning the infant or young child who has defecated, (2) after helping the child use the toilet or latrine, (3) after going to the latrine or toilet themselves, (4) before touching food and feeding young children, and (5) after dealing with refuse.
Parents and caregivers need to help children develop the habit of washing their hands with soap before eating and after using the latrine or toilet. Where soap is not available hands can be washed with ash and water. Animal and human faeces should be kept away from houses, paths, water sources and children's play areas.
The use of latrines and toilets together with good hygiene practices – specifically hand washing with soap – are essential public health tools. They protect children and families at little cost and help realize children's right to good health and nutrition.
Everyone in the community needs to work together to build and use toilets or latrines, practise good hygiene, protect water sources, and safely dispose of waste water and refuse.
It is important for governments to support communities by providing information on how to design and build latrines and toilets that all families can afford. In urban areas particularly, government support is also needed for low-cost sanitation and drainage systems, safe drinking water and refuse collection.
Many illnesses can be prevented by good hygienic practices: washing hands with soap and water (or a substitute, such as ash and water) after defecating or cleaning a child who has defecated, using clean toilets or latrines, disposing of faeces away from play and living areas and water sources, washing hands before handling food, using water from a safe source, disinfecting drinking water if its safety is in question, and keeping food and water clean.
1. All faeces, including those of babies and young children, should be disposed of safely. Making sure that all family members use a toilet, latrine or potty (for young children) is the best way to dispose of faeces. Where there is no toilet, faeces should be buried.Supporting Information
2. All family members, including children, need to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after any contact with faeces, before touching or preparing food, and before feeding children. Where soap is not available, a substitute, such as ash and water, can be used.Supporting Information
3. Washing the face and hands with soap and water every day helps to prevent eye infections. In some parts of the world, eye infections can lead to trachoma, which can cause blindness.Supporting Information
4. All water that people drink and use should come from a safe source or be purified. Containers for carrying and storing water need to be kept clean inside and outside and covered to keep the water clean. Where necessary, home-based water treatment, such as boiling, filtering, adding chlorine or disinfecting with sunlight, should be used to purify the water.Supporting Information
5. Raw or leftover cooked food can be dangerous. Raw food should be washed or cooked. Cooked food should be eaten without delay or thoroughly reheated before eating.Supporting Information
6. Food, utensils and preparation surfaces should be kept clean and away from animals. Food should be stored in covered containers.Supporting Information
7. Safe disposal of all household refuse helps to keep the living environment clean and healthy. This helps prevent illness.Supporting Information
8. Hygiene is very important during menstruation. Clean and dry feminine hygiene products should be available to girls and women. A clean, private space should be provided to allow them to clean themselves and wash and dry their cloths. Sanitary napkins need to be disposed of carefully with other refuse or burned.Supporting Information