Staying safe in Liberia with water and soap

Publié: 19 octobre 2015 9:00 CET

Mirva Helenius, IFRC

What is a simple way to keep Ebola away? Just mix soap, water and vigilance.

Every year in mid-October, people around the world celebrate Global Handwashing Day as a reminder of the importance of washing hands with soap. This year in Liberia, one of the three countries worst affected by Ebola in West Africa, proper handwashing is being promoted as a powerful tool in the fight against the deadly virus.

“Liberia is now Ebola-free, but we still need to stay vigilant. Handwashing is one of the simplest and most effective ways to prevent the spread of Ebola,” says Neima Candy, who works as a national Ebola coordinator with the Red Cross in Liberia.

At the beginning of September, Liberia was declared free of Ebola for the second time. However, the country is still under a 90-day period of heightened surveillance and the Liberian government and Liberia National Red Cross Society are urging people to continue observing preventative measures. The Red Cross is reinforcing this message by distributing handwashing kits, soap and chlorine to over 500 schools across the country.

“The Red Cross has helped us in installing handwashing stations and distributing soap bars to hundreds of our schools. This support is very important and well appreciated because Ebola is real and it still exists. We need to take the threat seriously and keep practicing the necessary safety measures. We are determined to keep our schools Ebola-free,” says Sekou Kroma from the Ministry of Education.

Kroma believes that the promotion of handwashing in schools will have a deep impact in the well-being of society as a whole, because it keeps children safe but also helps to spread the message.

“Students learn how to protect themselves against Ebola and other diseases at school and then share this information with their families at home. That’s why it’s important to provide them with both soap and knowledge,” says Kroma.

Neima Candy agrees about the importance of teaching children, and adults too, to not just wash their hands, but to do it properly.

“With chlorinated water it can be quick, more like a little rinse, but when washing with water and soap we need to be more meticulous; always wash all the way from the wrists to the fingernails, remembering also the palm, the back of the hand and between fingers. Proper handwashing should actually take at least one minute. And it should be practiced several times a day,” explains Candy.

Using soap and water beyond Ebola

Dr Dewindra Widiamurti, emergency health coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Liberia, adds that while handwashing works well against the spread Ebola, it can keep people safe from other diseases as well.

“Good hygienic practices are important in breaking the chain of transmission of so many diseases that are common here, such as diarrhoea. Washing hands with water and soap is very simple and cheap. Anybody can do it and everybody should do it. Proper handwashing should be part of our everyday routine and become a lifestyle.”

The IFRC has revised its Emergency Appeal in Liberia to assist 3.8 million people as the country recovers from the Ebola outbreak. The appeal of 46,349,362 Swiss francs is currently 48 per cent funded.