How to effectively encourage proper handwashing behavior among children

Published October 15, 2021, 8:33 PM

by Merlina Hernando-Malipot

While handwashing is one of the most effective ways to prevent illnesses such as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), proper washing of hands remains a challenge especially for younger children.

(Photo from Pixabay)

In line with the celebration of the Global Handwashing Day on Friday, Oct. 15, health and education authorities underscored the need for parents and other significant adults to create a culture of handwashing among kids.

For the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Department of Health (DOH), one of the effective ways to encourage handwashing behavior is through the use of behavioral nudges or simple cues in the environment that can encourage healthy behaviors.

In a collaborative study led by DepEd and UNICEF in Zamboanga del Norte, “handwashing practice of students increased by 17.3 percentage points due to nudges that lead to handwashing stations.”

They said that nudges used include footprints leading to handwashing stations, posters, eye stickers and arrows pointing to soap.

Building on the results of that study as well as global evidence on nudges, DOH, in partnership with UNICEF, launched the WASH o’clock campaign to remind people to wash their hands during critical moments and as they move about in their communities.

The campaign includes installation of signages and public handwashing stations to nudge people to wash their hands in markets, malls, transport hubs, government offices, churches and health centers.

The efforts of DepEd and DOH to promote proper handwashing among children were lauded by UNICEF Philippines and World Health Organization (WHO) Philippines.

“Having a costed national hygiene plan would pave the way for other sectors and partners to join efforts in accelerating our progress and creating a safer future for children in the Philippines,” said UNICEF Philippines Representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov.

“We commend the collaboration between DepEd and DOH for being the driving force in promoting the practice of hand hygiene and help ensure that children grow in healthy environments,” she added.

Meanwhile, WHO Philippines Representative Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe noted that prompting and reminding people to wash their hands is an effective strategy to improve hygiene practice.

“We are happy seeing this approach applied not just in healthcare settings but in schools and communities to better integrate the habit in people’s daily lives,” he explained.

Based on international studies, among the child health interventions, handwashing programs have similar cost-effectiveness to that of immunization and oral rehydration therapy. However, only four percent of countries reported that they have sufficient funding to reach their national hygiene targets.

Experts also noted that aside from helping prevent COVID-19 transmission, handwashing with soap also prevents other diseases. Studies have shown that handwashing can reduce diarrheal diseases by 30 percent and acute respiratory infections by up to 20 percent.

A recently released State of the World Hand Hygiene report shows that an estimated half a million people globally die each year from diarrhea or acute respiratory infections which could have been prevented with good hand hygiene.

In the context of the Philippines, handwashing supports the reduction, prevention and elimination of stunting among 30 percent of children under five.