Credit: Geetanjal Khanna
Handwashing with water and soap is a simple but highly effective practice that can significantly reduce the incidence of diarrhoea and pneumonia in children under five. According to a study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), handwashing with soap is the most cost-effective health intervention that can prevent these diseases.
It is important to note that handwashing with soap is most effective when done at critical times, such as after using the toilet or cleaning a child, before eating or handling food, and before feeding a child. However, direct observation of handwashing behavior at these times can be challenging.
To address this, an alternative approach to assessing handwashing behavior is to observe the availability of water and soap (or other local cleansing materials) at the place where people wash their hands. If these materials are not available, it is likely that correct handwashing behavior is not being practiced.
Unfortunately, in Nigeria, access to basic handwashing facilities is still a major challenge, particularly in rural areas. According to the Nigeria Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) conducted in 2021, more than half of handwashing facilities do not have water and soap. The situation is worse in rural areas, where 58.1% of handwashing facilities do not have these basic necessities.
This highlights the urgent need for improved access to handwashing facilities in Nigeria, particularly in rural areas where the majority of the population resides. It is also important to raise awareness about the importance of proper handwashing practices, and to educate people on how to effectively wash their hands.
The data shows significant variation across regions, with the North Central having the highest proportion of facilities without water and soap at 72.5%, followed by the South West at 59.7%. The North East had 54.9%, the North West had 47.6%, while the South East and South South had the lowest proportions at 41.6% and 40.5% respectively.
These regional variations are important to consider when planning and implementing interventions to improve access to handwashing facilities in Nigeria. For example, the North Central and South West regions may require more targeted interventions due to the high proportion of facilities without water and soap.
The data also highlights significant disparities in access to basic handwashing facilities across the country, with some states having very high proportions of facilities without water and soap.
For example, Kebbi state has the highest proportion at 88%, followed closely by Benue state at 84.5%. Other states with high proportions include Plateau at 75.4%, Jigawa at 74%, Nasarawa at 73.1%, and Kogi at 72.3%. These states may require more targeted interventions to improve access to handwashing facilities and reduce the incidence of diseases.
On the other hand, some states have relatively low proportions of facilities without water and soap, such as Enugu at 35%, Adamawa at 30.5%, and Imo at 30.3%. These states may serve as examples of good practices that can be emulated in other states to improve access to basic handwashing facilities.
It is worth noting that some of the states with low proportions of facilities without water and soap are in the south of the country, while some of the states with high proportions are in the north. This underscores the importance of considering regional disparities and the underlying factors that contribute to them when designing interventions to improve access to basic services such as water and sanitation.
The data highlights the urgent need to invest in water and sanitation infrastructure and promote behavior change to improve access to basic handwashing facilities in Nigeria. This is not only critical for reducing the incidence of diseases but also for promoting overall health and well-being. Achieving universal access to basic handwashing facilities is a key component of the Sustainable Development Goals and requires sustained investments and collective action by all stakeholders.
It is encouraging to note that hygiene has been included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets, which aim to achieve universal access to basic handwashing facilities at home. Achieving this target will require collaboration between the government, private sector, civil society, and individuals. This will involve increasing investments in water and sanitation infrastructure, as well as promoting behavior change through targeted campaigns and educational programs.
In conclusion, handwashing with water and soap is a simple but powerful practice that can significantly reduce the incidence of diarrhoea and pneumonia in children under five. However, this requires access to basic handwashing facilities and proper education on handwashing practices. Improving access to handwashing facilities in Nigeria will not only reduce the incidence of diseases but also contribute to the achievement of the SDGs.