Karina Coates, communication delegate, Papua New Guinea
School pupil Nelson John vigorously soaps and scrubs his hands, rinsing and drying them only when a second enthusiastic rendition of “Happy birthday” ends. His classmates applaud his demonstration of the effective hand-washing technique, where just 20 seconds – twice through the well-known song – is all it takes to ensure clean hands. It’s a simple message, but one that can save lives.
On Global Handwashing Day, 15 October, Red Cross volunteers partnered with health educators from soap manufacturer Colgate Palmolive to demonstrate the importance of good hygiene practices to school children in Papua New Guinea’s capital, Port Moresby.
Meanwhile, Red Cross volunteers in two provinces hard hit by recent cholera, dysentery and influenza outbreaks began their first day of intensive training as part of a national hygiene education campaign.
The training will be rolled out in 13 provinces, equipping more than 700 volunteers to communicate the importance of good hygiene practices to 300,000 people in all national languages. These messages will also reach 2.4 million people through nationwide television and radio broadcasts over the coming weeks.
The national campaign builds on Red Cross’s response to the outbreaks, where cholera, dysentery and influenza claimed the lives of 153 people and affected more than 13,500 others. A month ago, the Papua New Guinea government declared a health emergency in northwest Morobe Province, where most cases have occurred. Cholera, which had never before been officially confirmed in the country, has been reported in three provinces.
Volunteers responded to the health emergency by immediately distributing information in Morobe Province on how to prevent the three diseases. The new Red Cross campaign will build on successful methods of communicating these important messages.
As well as door-to-door visits and providing information at transport hubs and markets, volunteers will speak with school children and develop theatrical performances to reach wider audiences.
“Red Cross is not only working to address the immediate health threats,” Secretary General of Papua New Guinea Red Cross Society, Ms Esmie Sinapa, said. “We are committed to long-term solutions that build resilience and ensure that people know how to keep themselves and their families healthy and safe.”
While reports of new cases of the three diseases have recently decreased, many communities in Papua New Guinea live in environments where such diseases can flourish. “Providing education about good hygiene practices where sanitation and water services are scarce is a crucial preventative measure,” Ms Sinapa said.
Red Cross’s hygiene campaign will run for three months across the country.