The group said nearly 100,000 children under the age of five die in Nigeria yearly.
Thirteen per cent of global deaths of children under five occur in Nigeria due to inadequate access to sanitation, Michael Ojo, the Country Representative of Wateraid, an international NGO, said on Tuesday.
Mr. Ojo said this in Abuja at an event to commemorate the 2013 Global Handwashing Day, observed globally on October 15, annually.
According to him, nearly 100,000 children under the age of five die in Nigeria every year and about 75,000 of these deaths can be traced to the country’s poor access to sanitation and water.
“The heart breaking fact is that this dire situation can be avoided and the number of deaths vastly reduced, if people have basic knowledge of good hygiene and effective sanitation.
“The simple practice of washing hands with soap or ash at critical times such as after using the toilet, before handling food, especially poultry and other livestock and after cleaning up a child’s faeces should be observed.
“The call to action is compelling as our overall development and that of our children is dependent upon this behaviour change.
“The global handwashing campaign is a crusade not only aimed at reducing infant mortality, but also the incidences of respiratory and eye infections,” he said.
Mr. Ojo said that research had shown that in many developing countries, it was not the lack of soap that was the barrier but rather the problem was that soap was rarely used for hand washing.
“Creating lasting behaviour change and ensuring that handwashing with soap becomes an ingrained habit and a social norm, need to be key components of hygiene and sanitation programmes in Nigeria.
“This should not just be confined to rural areas where people are generally considered to be illiterate.
“Because even among the `elite’ and highly educated, a good number of people do not make it a practice to wash their hands after using the toilet and other critical times.
“In places like schools and hospitals, offices and hotels, meeting rooms and places of worship where we shake hands, exchange money and other items.
“Our hands can either be channels for receiving greetings, warmth, comfort, sustenance or they can become the unfortunate vectors of disease causing germs.’’
He, therefore, urged Nigerians to ensure the promotion of behaviour change throughout the year and as a crucial part of everyday life rather than just an October15 event.
On his part, Bisi Agberemi, the UNICEF Water and Sanitation Specialist, said that handwashing had the potential of saving more lives than any immunisation.
“Diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera can be minimised by the simple act of hand washing; cholera is ravaging a lot of states in Nigeria today.
“We can save 150,000 children every year; this occasion enables us to re-dedicate ourselves to this call for good hygiene of hand washing and it should be a collective effort by everyone,’’ Mr. Agberemi said.
In a remark, Ebele Okeke, the WASH Ambassador, described hand washing with soap as a `do-it-yourself vaccination’.
She urged everyone present to spread the message of hand washing as a very effective and cheap way of disease prevention and ultimately reduction of child mortality.
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