Master blaster Sachin Tendulkar promotes handwashing in India

Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar and his teammates joined an estimated 100 million schoolchildren around the country yesterday in lathering up for better health and hygiene as part of the first Global Handwashing Day which was observed on October 15

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“Sachin, you and your teammates are an inspiration to young Indians  and cricket fans around the world,” said UNICEF Representative in India Karin Hulshof, who travelled to Mohali Cricket grounds in Chandigarh for the event.

“And even more important is your commitment to giving your time and energy to keep India’s children safe and healthy,” she added. “You and the team are great examples of what we – the Government of India, UNICEF, Indian cricket and the young people throughout this great nation – can achieve together when we wash our hands with soap to stay healthy.”

Tendulkar, who is widely acknowledged as one of cricket’s greatest batsmen in the history of the sport, is well on his way to breaking the world record for runs scored in test cricket. He has appeared in a public service announcement developed by UNICEF and the Government of India being broadcast in 14 languages across the country.

Simple, cost-effective solution

“I wanted to be a part of this campaign, because washing hands with soap can keep children safe and healthy and protect them against deadly disease,” the cricket star said. “Having two young children, I constantly have to remind them to wash their hands before and after meals.”

The campaign is led by the Department of Drinking Water Supply (DDWS) of the Ministry of Rural Development, and the Department of School Education and Literacy of the Ministry of Human Resource Development.

More than 1,600 children die every day in India from diarrhoea. But the simple, cost-effective solution of washing hands with soap after defecation and before meals could greatly reduce that number. Proper handwashing with soap can reduce diarrhoeal cases by almost half and acute respiratory illnesses by 30 per cent.

Countering myths about handwashing

According to the country’s Public Health Association, only 53 per cent of people in India wash hands after defecation, 38 per cent wash hands before eating and only 30 per cent wash hands before preparing food. Many people don’t wash their hands, because they believe that hands that look clean cannot make them sick.

Many people also believe that water alone is sufficient to remove visible dirt from hands. As part of Global Handwashing Day, a five-step handwashing technique, developed in Tamil Nadu state, is being taught to school children around the country.

“The crux of this campaign is that we are reaching out to students in hundreds of thousands of schools in rural India, from children in the flood-affected areas of Bihar to schools in far removed tribal regions of Jharkhand to satellite schools in Rajasthan,” said UNICEF India Chief of Water and Sanitation Lizette Burgers.