A specific time must be earmarked in the timetable at every school for students, teachers and even cooks to collectively and simultaneously engage in one simple exercise that could fight diseases and also absenteeism — washing one’s hands with soap.
The HRD Ministry’s School Education department has written to all schools serving mid day meal (MDM) to ensure that a new exercise of handwashing is incorporated in the daily schedule to “instil the practice of handwashing” amongst children. All states have been asked to help ‘mainstream’ the exercise of handwashing with soap before every mid day meal is served, in view of increasing cases of diarrhoea and other hygiene related diseases affecting students.
“The MDM, which is served to nearly 110 million children in 1.3 million schools , provides an excellent opportunity to influence the practice of washing hands with soap. This essential life skill once learnt at school, can then be inculcated within the household and wider community by children,” the ministry has said in a communication to all state governments.
Five recommendations have been sent to states to mainstream handwashing in schools. These include ensuring availability of soap, a dedicated slot in the daily time table to allow time for all children, cooks and teachers to wash their hands simultaneously, supply buckets and mugs in case adequate sanitation facilities are not available, teachers and headmasters should monitor and ensure this activity on a daily basis, and states should help generate comprehensive data on number, quality and functionality of water and sanitation systems in schools for the success of the ‘WASH-in-school’ programme.
The ministry backs its instructions with WHO data that says 88 per cent diarrhoeal diseases are caused by unsafe water and inadequate sanitation. “Handwashing with soap is a proven, effective and inexpensive intervention against diarrhoea, an all too common cause of absenteeism. Particularly, after contact with excreta, hand washing with soap can reduce diarrhoeal diseases by over 40 per cent and respiratory infections by 30 per cent. Diarrhoea and respiratory infections are the number one cause for child deaths in India,” the ministry note reads.