A project to teach school children the habit of hand washing hopes to end diarrhoea, a disease that affects up to 19 out of every 100 children.

The Expanded Social Marketing Project in Nigeria (ESMPN) run by the Society for Family Health and funded by the US government has begun campaign at schools in city slum neighbourhoods of Abuja where children face poor sanitation and live in unhygienic conditions.

Diarrhoea, associated with unsanitary conditions, accounts for 16 out of 100 child deaths – nearly 150,000 annually- mainly among children aged less than five.

“The idea of the project today is to keep teaching children how to wash their hands as this would reduce diarrhoea and deaths,” said Martty Bell, ESMPN chief of party at a sensitisation at the LEA Primary School, Bayazhin, Kubwa in Abuja.

“And one of the main things that happens in Nigeria is that children get sick because of unclean water, not washing their hands before they eat and after they go to toilet.”

Domestic policies already mandate use of oral rehydration salts and zinc tablets in diarrhoea treatment.

“We go out to educate people on the use of ORS and zinc tablets as the best and recommended treatment for diarrhoea,” said deputy chief of party Boladale Akin-Kolapo.

“Many years ago, we were used to Oral Rehydration Salt (ORS) which is just the salt water solution, but at the moment what we now preach is ORS and zinc.

“The ORS will deal with the dehydration that the child suffers as a result of the diarrhoea, while the zinc tablet restores back the child’s energy. The zinc also helps to stop this diarrhoea, prevent unnecessary hospital admission and keep the child [alive].”

The focus on school children is to “educate them right from the start,” she said.

“We all have a responsibility as Nigerians to keep our children empowered with the right information so that they make informed choices in life,” she added.

ESMPN is a nationwide project covering maternal and child health in addition to increasing prevalence rate of contraceptive use in Nigeria, said its deputy chief of party Boladale Akin-Kolapo.

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