file image. Picture: Romeo Ronaco

Handwashing can reduce the risk of communicable diseases by up to 59%, preventing a million deaths a year.

Yet, if you were to stand watch in a public bathroom, you would notice that, on average, six out of 10 people do not wash their hands. And of those who do, only 65% use soap. This according to hygiene brand, Dettol.  It’s no wonder that every minute in the world a child dies from diarrhoea, a communicable disease that can be prevented by the simple act of handwashing. 

It seems like a mundane thing to do, but handwashing can be as effective as vaccination. There really is only one way to battle these diseases and that is on the “home front”.  The weapon of choice is education.

It is estimated that washing hands with soap and water could reduce diarrhoeal disease-associated deaths by up to 50%. 

Read: Why you should sing 'Happy Birthday' while washing your hands

Contributing to 272 million lost school days per year, diarrhoea has an enormous impact on family life, healthcare systems and society around the world. More children die per day due to diarrhoeal diseases than from AIDS, malaria and measles combined, yet simple hygiene practices both at home and at school can help to break the chain of infection.

This year, Dettol celebrated Global Handwashing Day last week with an interactive and personal campaign. The brand embarked on a six-week campaign called “Letter for Life” and visited 60 schools in Gauteng where learners would be ‘gifting’ soap letters to learners from a pre-selected partner school. These soap letters were written by learners before being coated with liquid soap and dried.

Following the soap letter exchange, each learner read the letter and then used it to wash their hands at a hand wash station. The Dettol mascot, Captain Dettol also did his rounds at schools to deliver the soap letters and share the value of handwashing with the learners.

Jorge Guil, Marketing Director, Reckitt Benckiser South Africa said, “Poor hygiene practices can lead to children missing school, and unnecessary illness and sometimes death. This can all be prevented by washing hands. “The “letter for life” is about children encouraging each other to wash their hands and stay healthy. This campaign can save lives.”

For decades, the brand has been running ongoing health and hygiene programmes across South Africa. New mums are educated from the birth of their child on healthy hygiene habits across various milestones of their new baby’s life. About 600 000 new mums have gone through the programme in public hospitals and clinics.

Dettol has reached 155 schools and 100 000 learners with this programme. A partnership with the PnP School Club has been instrumental in educating learners on good hygiene. Dettol owns the Life Orientation curriculum for learners across different grades and has reached 2300 schools and 1.5 million learners to date.

(Adapted from press release)