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Promoting the health benefits of cleanliness in Malawi and worldwide

Promoting the health benefits of cleanliness in Malawi and worldwide

Medical studies have long shown how better hygiene can reduce deaths among children from illnesses such as cholera and diarrhoea, but cleanliness is now being seen as vital in the battle against other health threats.

For example, a recently published large-scale review of medical studies suggests that improved hygiene may reduce stunting. Looking at data from fourteen studies into the health of children from 6-60 months, the review assessed the effect of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) interventions on the under-fives. The results suggest that these interventions have a beneficial effect on the weight and height of children, with children who received clean water and soap showing a “small but improved” average growth of half a centimetre more than children who had not.

Further studies need to be conducted on how far hygiene impacts a child’s growth, but researchers believe the review provides enough evidence to suggest improved hygiene may reduce stunting in young children by up to 15%. One key reason is that repeated bouts of illnesses such as diarrhoea reduce the gut’s ability to absorb nutrients essential for growth. Speaking to the news agency IRIN, a director of nutrition at the World Health Organisation said the newly published review suggested solving undernutrition required a “multi-pronged approach”.

The importance of better hygiene during birth is also becoming more of a focus in the work of development agencies. 99% of the 800 women who die each day from pregnancy or birth-related complications come from the developing world, where giving birth at home is common. To improve hygiene in developing countries, agencies such as the Karuna Trust in India and the Birthing Project in the USA have begun distributing clean birth kits assembled by women in rural India. The JANMA kit can be produced for around 2 dollars and includes a soft, blood-absorbent sheet providing a clean surface for births, medicinal soap, disposable gloves and a sterile blade and clamp for the umbilical cord. These supplies are packaged into a biodegradable jute envelope and help to reduce cases of infection and other complications arising giving birth in a non-sterile environment.

Developed in 2009 in India, more than 30,000 JANMA kits have been sold to clinics, hospitals and non-governmental agencies. A spokesperson for the Birthing Project USA told the news agency Alertnet that they have already purchased more than 5,000 kits. These have been distributed to countries such as Malawi, where the kits have encouraged traditional midwives to partner with the health clinics who provide them. Though the supplies in the jute envelope are basic and low-cost, they can mean the difference between life and death for new mothers; hence a new slogan for the kits – “small purse, BIG CHANGE”.

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