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Hygiene 101 in schools

A student washes her hands as part of world WASH day in Phnom Penh
A student washes her hands as part of world WASH day in Phnom Penh. A new campaign aims to reduce deaths from diarrheal diseases by educating students in hand washing. Heng Chivoan

Hygiene 101 in schools

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport has launched a school hygiene and hand-washing campaign to help stymie Cambodia’s high rates of child mortality and malnutrition.

Hand washing can nearly halve the incidence of diarrheal disease, according to the campaign, a badly needed measure since annually more than 2,300 Cambodian children under five die from diarrhea.

“One of the cheapest and most effective ways to prevent child deaths is through washing hands,” said Sunah Kim, deputy country representative for UNICEF.

Last month, the Ministry of Education began disseminating recommendations for promoting hand washing and sanitation standards to school teachers and principals around the country. Educators are asked to ensure clean school facilities, sing songs in the classroom about hand washing and inform students of the importance of hand washing.

“Children in the rural provinces don’t have access to improved sanitation, and when they get sick from this, it affects their ability to study and they drop out of school,” said Minister of Education Hang Chuon Naron.

Almost half of Cambodia’s public schools lack running water and nearly 70 per cent have no bathroom facilities.

“If a school has no water, no toilet, what can they do? They can set up a container of clean water … and soap. The teachers or the principal can use the national budget to subsidise this,” said Yung Kunthearith, deputy director of school health.

But some schools say they lack funds for toilets and hand-washing stations.

“Some schools do not want to pay for [facilities] on their own.… Three years ago, our school did not have a toilet,” said Och Nath, a teacher of Hun Sen Don Ton High School in Preah Vihea’s Chhep district. “But for the last two years, we have just one toilet for all the students.”

Government officials declined to give a timeline for the implementation of school sanitation facilities.

“Our goal is to have 100 per cent of schools with running water and toilets, but it is not possible to build them all at once,” Chuon Naron said.