Undoubtedly one of the great tragedies of our modern world is the rate at which young children die from easily preventable infectious diseases. While medical science has hurtled well beyond its capacity to prevent this, other (overlapping and interrelated) factors – poverty and access, politics, inequality, trade, education – perpetuate a kind of structural injustice that will see more than three million children die next year from infectious diseases.
It may be easy to identify and compartmentalise the structural injustice that allows this to continue, however solutions to this problem are at once both glaringly simple and utterly complex. When we know that poor hygiene is a huge catalyst for transmitting infection, relatively simple and achievable solutions can be rolled out at the individual, household and community level that circumvent the cumbersome pace of structural change.
The Global Hygiene Council (GHC) recently released its global report, “Small Steps for Big Change”, which investigated the alarming global prevalence of preventable infectious diseases in children. It’s calling for a simple 5-step plan to be implemented by families, communities and healthcare professionals to improve hygiene practices and prevent the deaths of millions of children worldwide.
The report found that a million children die every year from pneumonia and more than 700,000 under the age of five die from diarrhoea. We often hear these statistics and the sheer volume is so great, it becomes difficult to digest. Herein lies the great tragedy. Millions of children, every year, dying from something that would rarely hospitalise them if not for the circumstance of geography. Of course the problem is compounded by malnutrition and other factors but it often need not be compounded at all, if simple steps were taken at the start.
“It is unacceptable that largely preventable infections such as diarrhoea are still one of the biggest killers of children globally,” says Professor John Oxford, an infectious diseases expert from the UK and Chair of the GHC. “Handwashing with soap has been shown to reduce diarrhoeal deaths by 50% and by developing this 5-step plan, we want to deliver a clear and consistent message about how small changes in hygiene practices could have a big impact on the health and well-being of children around the world.”
The 5-step plan focuses on small changes like handwashing and household habits, and the GHC predicts it could halve the global incidence of diarrhoea and significantly ease the transmission of colds and influenza. It was developed by a team of GHC experts, paediatricians, infectious disease specialists, and public health experts from the UK, France, the USA, Nigeria, and South Africa.
“Poor personal hygiene and home hygiene practices are widely recognised as the main causes of infection transmission for colds, influenza and diarrhoea,” says Professor Oxford. “Families, communities and healthcare professionals need to acknowledge that improved hygiene is effectively a first line of defence and that adopting better hygiene practices could have a dramatic and positive impact on the lives of young children worldwide.”
To review the full “Small Steps for Big Change” report see: www.hygienecouncil.org
Featured Image: Children in Sindh, Pakistan play at a water pump in 2010 (Credit: Russell Watkins/DFID,Flickr)
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