Why it’s important to maintain good hygiene in children

Encourage children to wash their hands with soap ./ Net photo.

Did you know that the simple habit of hand washing with soap is estimated to reduce diarrhoea significantly, especially in children under the age of five?

Experts say it also reduces the risks of respiratory infections such as pneumonia, among others.

According to Raymond Awazi, a paediatrician in Kigali, our homes should be devoid of malnutrition and poor hygiene-bred diseases such as diarrhoea, due to poor hygiene or an unhealthy diet. Poor hygiene and malnutrition have long-term consequences for the child, including intellectual and physical ailments. 


World Health Organisation reports that, each year, diarrhoea kills around 760,000 children under five, making it the second leading cause of death in children under the age of five. 

However, health experts say that this is preventable and treatable. A significant proportion of diarrheal disease can be prevented through drinking clean water and practicing good sanitation.

Awazi says young children are more vulnerable than adults when it comes to the ill effects of unsafe water and poor sanitation.

He notes that infection from viruses like rotavirus, bacteria like salmonella and some parasites viruses are the most common cause of a child’s diarrhoea.

Along with loose or watery stool, symptoms of a viral gastroenteritis infection often include vomiting, stomach-ache, headache, and fever.

He explains that with children, it’s easy to be infected with worms, which deplete the body’s nutrients.

“These worms and their eggs can be found in human and animal faeces and urine, in surface water and soil as well as in poorly cooked meat,” he says.

He adds, “Children often put their hands into their mouth, so it is important for parents or caretakers to always encourage them to wash their hands, especially after they have been playing in the dirt or with animals. By doing this, it also help prevent skin infections,” Awazi he says.


Francis Kazungu, a general practitioner at La Nouvelle Clinic in Remera, says many illnesses, especially diarrhoea, come from germs, if these germs get into water, food, utensils or children’s play items, they can be easily be taken in.

However, he notes that the only way to prevent this is by ensuring safe disposal of all kinds of dirt to prevent the spread of germs by people or flies.

Dr Rusizina says parents should make sure they wash their hands before handling a child and their food.

He says, for instance, after cleaning up an infant or a young child who has defecated, or after helping them using the toilet, before touching food and feeding them, wash your hands; and the child’s too.

Children, he says, should be taught the habit of washing their hands with soap, or ash in case there is no soap. This should happen whenever they want to eat or after using the toilet, if they are old enough to do so.

“These practices are essential public health tools, as they protect children and families at a little cost and help realise children’s rights to good health and nutrition as well,” he adds.

Yvan Ntwali, a general practitioner in Kigali, notes that latrines and toilets should be cleaned frequently and covered.

He points out that practicing good hygiene also helps keep eye infections at bay. He explains that when a child has a dirty face, it attracts flies, which are capable of spreading the germs from person-to-person or child-to-child.

The eyes can become sore or infected, which could lead to vision impairment or loss. Therefore, his advises that the eyes should be kept clean at all times.

“This can be noticed if the child has dry, red or sore eyes, sometimes there can be discharge or just difficulty seeing. If this is seen, the parent or caretaker should take the child to be examined by a physician to avoid further complications,” he says.

For infants, Ntwali says special care should be taken while preparing their food. For example, he says their food should be freshly made and eaten immediately.

He also notes that a mother should exclusively breastfeed her baby for six months. For those who pump breast milk for their infants, they should always store it at room temperature for up to eight hours when covered well.

“For the older children, if they are to be given milk, it should be freshly boiled or pasteurised; this is a way to destroy harmful bacteria,” he adds.



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