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Why Global Handwashing Day Matters

One of the top three killers of children under the age of five globally is diarrhea. Human feces carries diarrhea pathogens and  “a single gram of human feces can contain 10 million viruses and one million bacteria“. An easy way to curb deaths of children under five is to simply wash one’s hands. This goes for pneumonia as well, another global killer of children in low- and middle-income countries.

Handwashing is an intervention that works, but one that proves hard to catch on in some parts of the world due to a lack of knowledge, behavioral norms, and a lack of soap! Studies show most homes worldwide have soap, but it is typically used to wash clothes and not hands. If one simply washes their hands it breaks the cycle of a disease. That is how powerful, effective, and inexpensive handwashing is, but unfortunately isn’t used nearly enough to curb some of the most deadly infectious diseases that take the lives of millions of children every year.

October 15 is the annual Global Handwashing Day where over 200 million people celebrate handwashing around the world to reinforce the importance of washing hands to stay healthy and ultimately save lives.  Simply washing one’s hands with soap significantly reduces the spread of disease. And yet, given that, data shows that health workers only wash their hands 40% of the time when they are in a health care setting. That is certainly unacceptable and one of the primary reasons Global Handwashing Day exists. Studies also show that children who live in homes where handwashing is a part of the regular routine are more healthy than those who do not.

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A Day in the Life of a Family Planning Health Worker

Salasala, Tanzania — It took over an hour in notoriously congested Dar es Salaam traffic and gingerly moving through winding, narrow, dirt roads to visit Blandina Mpacha. Mama Blandina, as her community affectionately calls her, is a PSI health worker who teaches women, men, and whole families about the importance of family planning. This isn’t something new to her. Mama Blandina has been a family planning health worker for over twenty years and has seen the slow-going, but eventual change in attitudes toward spacing births. In a country where women give birth to 5.29 babies on average, Mama Blandina is saving lives and giving women a chance to raise their families instead of living in a perpetual cycle of pregnancy.

Greeting us on her front porch where adult shoes and sandals laid strewn about, Mama Blandina first wanted to show us her chickens. It wasn’t just a few adult hens milling about and pecking around; no, it was a coop full of at least seventy growing chickens being raised for sale, for as much as Mama Blandina is a family planning health worker, she is also an entrepreneur and has been for much of her adult life.  This is yet another sign of Mama Blandina’s resourcefulness, standing, and importance in a relatively poor community on the immediate outskirts of Dar es Salaam.

Blandina Mpacha first learned about being a family planning health worker on the only radio station in Tanzania at the time. Back then, she recalled between sips of coffee, only women who worked in offices used family planning methods. Now, for the most part, the stigma has fallen away.

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