More efforts are needed from various partners to promote hand washing culture, especially among school-going children, to prevent sanitation diseases.
The remarks were made by health officials as the country joined the rest of the world to mark the global Hand Washing Day in Nyabihu District.
The Wednesday event, that also saw the launch of a hygiene campaign in schools, was marked at Saint Raphael SS, Rambura Sector.
Officials urged students to be agents of behavioural change at school and in their respective communities by adopting hand washing and good hygiene practices.
It was noted that most children suffer from hygiene-related diseases which can be prevented with good hygiene practices.
Poor hygiene and sanitation is one of the major causes of diarrhea and intestinal worms that also exacerbate malnutrition, officials said.
“Proper hygiene keeps diseases at bay and saves money that would otherwise be spent on treatment,” said Parfait Uwariraye, the director of planning, monitoring and evaluation at the Ministry of Health.
The officials noted that proper hygiene practices, such as hand washing with soap, proper use of latrines and waste management need to be emphasised to reduce illness and child stunting.
The Rwanda Demographic Health Survey (RDHS 2010) shows that only 10 per cent of the households have a place for hand washing, and among those households 21 per cent have water and soap for hand washing.
No data is available yet on hand washing with soap in schools.
However, in the third Health Sector Strategic Plan (July 2012- June 2018), Rwanda aims to reduce diarrhea prevalence among children from 13 per cent in 2010 to nine per cent by 2018.
Dr Uwariraye stressed that parents and school managers should work closely with the Ministry of Health to address sanitation challenges.
It was also noted that hand washing with soap is the most effective way to prevent diarrhea and respiratory diseases.
Hand washing with soap, according to health officials, can help reduce deaths from diarrhea by almost one-half and deaths from Acute Respiratory Infections (ARI) by nearly one-quarter.
The day was marked under the theme; “Choose hand washing with soap, and choose health”
Students who spoke to The New Times said their schools still lack hand washing facilities and other necessities that can help promote hygiene.
“We do not have hand washing facilities (better known as Kandagira ukarabe). After visiting a toilet you have to go elsewhere to wash hands which is tedious,” said Jean d’Amour Hagenimana, a S4 student at Saint Raphael.
The hygiene campaign is spearheaded by the Ministry of Health in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).
Dr Murtaza Malik, the head of water sanitation and hygiene at Unicef, said hand washing can save millions of lives as well as billions of francs spent on treatment.
He appreciated government’s efforts towards the promotion of hygiene and reiterated support from Unicef and One UN in general.
“It is important that we all work together to maintain the momentum and ensure that children and their families wash hands with soap, access adequate sanitation and understand the benefits of good hygiene practices,” said Malik.