Posted by: blog4globalhealth | 10/21/2011


J&J director of contributions on the importance of leveraging the simple intervention of handwashing to achieve health outcomes

A colleague of mine recently wrote about a woman in Nicaragua who went in search of a small loan, and ended up being treated for cervical cancer, because a microcredit organization arranged for a health screening to coincide with a banking workshop. This interdisciplinary approach improved this woman’s livelihood and saved her life.

There is growing awareness that this kind of approach is effective. As we prepare for the world population to reach 7 billion at the end of this month, smart development programs understand the importance of leveraging interactions with hard-to-reach people to solve more than one problem at a time. Handwashing is one of those opportunities.

CARE recognizes the multiplying power of handwashing. As part of its broader programs on improving access to water, the organization works with schools in low-resource settings around the world to make sure that children have sanitary bathrooms and enough soap and water to wash their hands. CARE finds environmentally sustainable ways to make this happen, for instance by collecting rain water and building latrines. Sanitation and hygiene in schools is crucial to preventing the spread of disease from family to family – simply washing hands can decrease diarrheal disease by up to 47 percent in a community – and an important step in breaking the cycle of parasitic worms that can find their way into the food supply and drinking water.

But increasing handwashing allows other improvements to take place, as well. Preventing diarrheal disease and parasitic worms helps prevent malnutrition and opportunistic infections. By keeping children healthy, they are more likely to attend school. The longer they are in school, the better their chances of a healthy and productive adulthood.

Johnson & Johnson is partnering with CARE to expand this impact through handwashing programs that take advantage of its potential as a multiplying agent. With this support, CARE will ensure that 48 schools in South Gondar, Ethiopia, have functioning latrines and a reliable supply of water for handwashing. Local residents will be educated on the importance of protecting water sources, and shown how this can be accomplished through reforestation. The program will support the broad effort by groups like Children Without Worms to break the cycle of parasitic worms in children by preventing reinfection.

The Millennium Development Goals, which provide a roadmap for overcoming global poverty in our lifetime, remind us that health, nutrition, and economic prosperity are inseparably connected. To address one, we must address all. The world’s population is bigger than it has ever been, but using every opportunity we have to multi-task offers us the best chance of keeping up.

Conrad Person is director, corporate contributions at Johnson & Johnson.

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