Marking Global Handwashing Day in Ebola-Impacted Sierra Leone

Annual occasion marked on October 15th
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A team member in Sierra Leone informs community members about Ebola signs and symptoms. Photo: I. Pivato for Action Against Hunger

This October 15th, hundreds of millions of people around the world, including in Sierra Leone, celebrated Global Handwashing Day with its 2015 theme of "raise a hand for hygiene.”  

Celebrated annually, this Global Handwashing Day was especially important given the current context of Sierra Leone, affected since May 2014 by the worst Ebola outbreak in the history of the virus.

With the outbreak of Ebola in the country, handwashing practice has been one of the main lines of defense against the spread of the infection and as a result this practice has significantly improved in the country. 

Despite the massive sensitizations, trainings, and promotions going on in the country on handwashing, proper handwashing with soap is not yet widely practiced and as a result, diarrheal diseases and respiratory infections contribute to 13% and 17% of deaths of children under five annually, respectively; and the country remains among the highest for mortality of children under five.

Handwashing with soap is not only affordable and simple, but it is also very effective at reducing the risk of illness and death from these diseases. In fact, simple handwashing with soap at critical times—such as after using the toilet or before eating—can reduce the incidences of diarrheal diseases among children under five by 47% and respiratory infections by approximately 25% .

Global Handwashing Day in Sierra Leone this year was designed to focus on celebrating the results achieved so far, and also on reinforcing the culture of handwashing with soap at critical times. 

Action Against Hunger in Sierra Leone works to improve access to clean water and sanitation, and to promote hygiene in vulnerable communities, schools, and health facilities in Western Area, Moyamba, and Kambia districts. Over the year, we have been working with a number of schools in our operational areas to improve good hygiene practices among other program interventions.  

To celebrate Global Handwashing Day 2015, students from over 30 such schools in Freetown and Kambia have been involved in poem competitions, quizes, role plays, dramas, art contests, debates, and demonstration of handwashing techniques around the “raise a hand for hygiene” theme. Children have been the main targets of this year’s global handwashing campaign aiming at promoting their role as agents of change with their fellows, at household and community levels.

As the country moves towards being Ebola free, Sasha Ekanayake, our Country Director in Sierra Leone, underscores that “the events of this year’s celebration are indeed timely as this is a period in which all are expected to not be complacent and be on track with hygiene practices to defeat Ebola, whilst building a solid foundation for a healthier nation."

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About Jammie Victory Sankoh

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Jammie is our Communications Officer in Sierra Leone, reporting about our programmatic efforts and impacts there.