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Hand washing and Islam – a prelude to PIMA’s hygiene initiative

October 15 is commemorated as hand washing day world over. Of recently UN agencies and other international development partners are investing billions of dollars in funding the hand washing projects around the world. Why? The answer is very simple, because, this simple practice is immensely associated with preventing disease, disability and death due to infection, infestation and food poisoning not only at the family and community level but even in the OPDs, wards, operation theatres and other healthcare outlets. The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) & Prevention, Washington has aptly put it this way: ‘Hand washing is like a “do-it-yourself” vaccine – it involves five simple and effective steps (Wet, Lather, Scrub, Rinse, Dry) you can take to reduce the spread of diarrheal and respiratory illness so you can stay healthy. Regular hand washing, particularly before and after certain activities, is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs to others. It’s quick, it’s simple, and it can keep us all from getting sick.’

For Muslims hand washing is part of their faith. The Prophet of Islam centuries ago obliged upon Muslims to wash their hands before and after meals, and after defecation as part of an elaborate personal hygiene and environmental sanitation package. So much so that He once said, ‘cleanliness is half of the faith.’

Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA) as the largest professional body of doctors in the country has piloted hygiene and sanitation projects with hand washing as one of the core component through indigenous funding. PIMA to date have concluded four pilot projects on hygiene and sanitation at Sukkur, ShikarPur, Jacobabad and Rahim Yar Khan. Current one at Peshawar is fifth of the series and first in KPK. Core elements of the project are:

  • Baseline Survey: It was conducted before the launch of project activities to assess the existing level of knowledge and practice of the families and communities re hygiene and sanitation.
  • Awareness and capacity building: Sessions are held by female and male hygiene promoters with the help of counseling cards at household, schools and community levels to raise awareness about hygiene and sanitation on one hand, and let them learn by doing the hygienic hand washing and solar disinfection of drinking water as simple strategies and means to stay healthy. Families and communities are educated and encouraged to keep selves, houses and the environment clean. Advocacy sessions are held with the nazimeen and elders for sustaining the move. A unique feature of the project is sessions by a Social Educator who educates the people on the relevant themes in accord with their beliefs and socio-cultural norms to enhance acceptance, motivation and reinforcement of the desirable hygiene and sanitation behavior.
  • Distribution of hygiene kits: Hygiene kits are distributed among the households to facilitate the initiation of hygienic behaviors. A unit hygiene kit comprises of the following items: Miswak, Toothpaste, Soaps, Toilet rolls, Nails clipper, Hand mirror, Comb, and a bag for valuables safety as preparedness to emergency evacuation in disaster.
  • End line survey: After the conclusion of project activities, an end line survey is conducted to see the change in knowledge and behaviors of the families and communities as a result of project activities. Comparing the data of baseline and end line survey enables to objectively measure the real worth and effectiveness of the project.

It’s worth mentioning that the project is implemented, monitored and reported upon by a professional team of community workers supervised and supported by the qualified volunteer doctors. The project team was trained on project activities by the faculty of Prime Institute of Public Health, Peshawar. To date the Peshawar project has served more than 2000 families of LandiDaudzai and JalaBelain UC Nahaqi of district Peshawar and expects to serve another segment of almost same size in adjoiningMianGujjar.

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