Marikina City, October 14, 2022As the return to full face-to-face classes approaches, the Department of Education (DepEd) and partners highlight the need to increase access to handwashing facilities to create safe learning environments.

The WHO-UNICEF Joint Monitoring Panel for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene 2021 update reveals that 64 percent of schools have access to handwashing facilities. DepEd has invested millions for construction and repair of water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in public schools.

On the occasion of the 2022 Global Handwashing Day, the Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Health (DOH), UNICEF, WHO and the City of Marikina called on different sectors to promote proper handwashing. To mark this year’s theme of “Sama-samang ikaway, Malilinis na Kamay!,” partners gathered at the Marikina Elementary School to reaffirm their commitment to strengthening programs on hand hygiene and increasing access to hand hygiene facilities for schools and other community spaces, such as markets, health centers, and offices.

Evidence has shown that handwashing with soap can reduce diarrhea by 30 percent and respiratory infections by up to 20 percent. Diarrhea and pneumonia are preventable and yet in the Philippines they rank high among the 10 leading causes of death for children 1 to 4 years old, according to DOH’s 2019 Philippine Health Statistics. Handwashing also contributes to the reduction, prevention and elimination of stunting. Around 30 percent of children under five in the Philippines are stunted, according to the Food and Nutrition Institute (FNRI).

“Hand hygiene promotion has always been part of our curriculum implementation, infrastructure development and school governance. And in the face of COVID-19, we intensified our WASH in Schools (WinS) program, while underlining additional infection prevention and control measures, to promote hand hygiene,” Undersecretary for Field Operations and Governance Atty. Revsee Escobedo said in his message as read by Bureau of Learner Support Services Director Lope Santos III.

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and even prior, the DOH has strongly advocated for the regular use and practice of proper handwashing — not only does it help get rid of viruses and other pathogens which in turn prevents transmission of COVID and other communicable

diseases, but it also strengthens and instill good and healthy habits of protection not just for children and schools but for healthy communities as well,” said DOH Officer-in-Charge Dr. Maria Rosario Singh-Vergeire.

Handwashing nudges, such as colorful footprints leading to handwashing stations, “watching”eyes, arrow stickers pointing to soap, and posters with simple messages have been effective in increasing handwashing practice of students by 17.3 percentage points, based on a study conducted by DepEd and UNICEF in Zamboanga del Norte schools. DOH, together with UNICEF, has also been implementing the Wash O’Clock national handwashing campaign, which uses these behavioral nudges to remind the public to wash their hands with soap at critical times, such as before eating and after toilet use. The campaign has reached about 3.4 million Filipinos to date.

In Marikina City, the multi-sectoral initiative has been adopted and received positively. “The City Government of Marikina puts primary importance on the health of every Marikina family. One of our longstanding priorities is to provide and maintain a clean and safe environment, especially for our children. We have been encouraging frequent handwashing as part of our COVID-19 health protocols, and now we are excited to implement the Health Promotion Playbook on behavioral nudges in our communities. This will help make handwashing with soap a healthy habit in Marikina,” Mayor Marcelino Teodoro said.

Development partners emphasized joint action as the key to ensuring widespread accessibility of hand hygiene facilities. “The commitment of our partners – from the national and local governments – is a welcome initiative to help us prepare for future outbreaks. Everyone has their own role to play to make universal access to hand hygiene a reality for all, including across schools, communities, public spaces, and health care facilities,” said Dr. Graham Harrison, Officer-in-Charge of WHO Philippines.

Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov, UNICEF Representative in the Philippines added, “Handwashing is one of the basic yet most critical ways to improve children’s health and well-being. Access to handwashing facilities and supplies is fundamental in ensuring children’s right to a clean, healthy environment that supports their optimal growth and development. Let us all work together to achieve universal hand hygiene for children.”

In support of school reopening and recovery from Super Typhoon Odette, UNICEF, in collaboration with partners, has assisted in the construction or repair of handwashing facilities in 96 schools and 6 healthcare facilities; completion of handwashing facility improvements are also ongoing in another 107 schools and child development centers.