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Clean hands save lives in Haiti

15 October 2010

Child watches as women wash their hands© InfoBritish Red Cross teams are running a range of hygiene promotion activities in one of the largest camps of displaced people in Haiti’s capital, to mark Global Hand-washing Day.

La Piste camp in Port-au-Prince is home to around 50,000 people, and the British Red Cross has been helping to keep camp residents healthy and clean since the earthquake by providing toilets, showers and hand-washing points, as well as teaching the community how to prevent disease and stay healthy.

After major disasters like the Haiti earthquake, one of the most vital things is to ensure people have adequate clean water and sanitation, and know the importance of good hygiene. Unsafe water facilities and unhealthy hygiene practices contribute to the spread of infections, which can cause diarrhoea and dysentery.

Disease

Ludnie Fils Amie, British Red Cross hygiene co-ordinator said: “It sounds so simple, but keeping your hands clean literally saves lives. It is the best way to prevent diarrhoeal and respiratory diseases that are the largest killers of children. People do everything with their hands, and in a camp like La Piste where people are crammed together and disease and bacteria are rife, it is even more important. We have been spreading these messages for the past nine months, but today is specifically devoted to raise awareness of the importance of hand washing.”

The British Red Cross activities across La Piste today include: hand-washing drawing competitions for children; competitions between the six blocks of toilets in the camp to see which area has the highest hand-washing rate; a theatre group from the camp is performing a play about hand-washing; and at least five members of the camp have composed their own songs on hand-washing and are performing them in a competition as part of the weekly hygiene promotion roadshow. The roadshow gathers hundreds of people together to spread the word of good health practices through song and dance. Music is proving a particularly powerful means of education: children already repeat the lyrics of songs they have heard just twice.

Ludnie said: “It’s not easy to change people’s habits, but we are making a big difference. When I ask the children in La Piste if washing your hands is important, they almost always reply ‘Yes!’ and they can explain to me why that is. We still have habits to change and people to reach so Global Hand-washing Day is important for us to carry on spreading the word. Through these simple means – just soap and water - we can improve and save lives.”

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