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Keynote Address by Minister of Basic Education, Mrs Angie Motshekga, MP, at the Global Hand-washing Day Event, held at Phamehlo Primary School, Gauteng, 15 October 2020

Programme Director

Sedibeng-West District Director, Mr Victor Thetha (our host)

Representatives from the United Kingdom High Commission

Unilever Representatives

UNICEF Representatives

School Principal, Mr Tsidiso Motsoeneng

Representatives of the Publishers’ Association of South Africa (PASA), and African Publishers’ Association (ASA)

Acting Deputy-Director-General for Care and Support, Dr Patricia Watson

Acting Chief Director: School Support, Ms Phindi Nkumane

Director: Psycho-Social Support, Mr Anthony Meyers

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen 

Programme Director; it gives me great pleasure to speak at this august occasion, namely the event designed to mark, the 15th of October, as the Global Hand-washing Day.

The Global Hand-washing Day is an annual global advocacy day dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding about the importance of hand-washing with soap as an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases.

It offers an opportunity for a variety of actors to design, test, and replicate creative ways to encourage people to wash their hands with soap at critical times.

The Global Hand-washing Day movement aims at fostering and supporting a global and local culture of hand-washing with soap. The movement aims at shining a spotlight on the state of hand-washing around the world while raising awareness about the health benefits of hand-washing with soap.

The first Global Hand-washing Day was held in 2008. On that day over 120 million children around the world washed their hands with soap in more than 70 countries. Since then the community as well as national leaders have used this day to spread the word about hand-washing hygiene.

Most importantly, it has demonstrated the simplicity and value of clean hands.

I urge all learners and teachers to join the global hand-washing movement, let us wash our hands with soap regularly to protect ourselves and others from infections.

This hand-washing phenomenon is not a nice to have; however, it is critical as studies show that proper sanitation and good hand hygiene practices increase learner participation in class while reducing absenteeism due to illnesses such as diarrhoea and pneumonia.

Marking this important day, global hand-washing, also serves as a call for all South Africans to wash hands regularly, especially after using the toilet, changing baby nappies, handling waste, and before preparing food.

Hand-washing with soap is an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives.

At a local level, we are joining this global hand-washing movement because our long-term basic education strategy enjoins us to use schools as vehicles to promote access for learners to public services like health, poverty alleviation, and psycho-social support services amongst others.  

This year’s global hand-washing could not have come at the opportune moment as the world battles the global pandemic that seeks to reverse the gains of the recent past.

Thus, the COVID-19 pandemic provides a stark reminder that one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of a virus is also one of the simplest: hand hygiene, especially through hand-washing with soap.

To beat the virus today and ensure better health outcomes beyond the pandemic, hand-washing with soap must be a priority now and in the future.

This year’s theme, Hand Hygiene for All, calls for all of society to achieve universal hand hygiene.

The issue of hand-washing is a global call to action and is linked to the broader need for heightened hygiene, sanitation and clean water.

Today, hygiene now forms part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) calling upon governments to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

The 2020 Global Hand-washing Day’s key message is that hand-washing with soap must become a priority for all as it is a proven, cost-effective way to improve health, nutrition, education, economic development, and equity.

The act of hand-washing with soap protects one’s health as well as the health of others without the need for any other state intervention. We are being asked to take the issue of our health and well-being into our own hands, literally.

We use this day as Government to make a clarion call to social partners across sectors to partner with us to make access to clean water, sanitation and hand hygiene universal.

We must mobilise society around hand-washing hygiene to increase the impact of this cost-effective way to prevent the spread of viruses as well as bacteria.

As the Basic Education Department, we certainly believe that the health of our children is intrinsically linked to the improved learner outcomes.

In fact, as Mahatma Gandhi once put it:  “It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.”

As we mark this international hand-washing day, it is worth reminding South Africa that long-lasting behavioural change is only achieved through education. 

In this within this context that we have an overarching framework known as Care and Support for Teaching and Learning (CSTL) to address barriers to teaching and learning.

The framework has two flagship programmes, namely the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) and the Integrated School Health Programme (ISHP). We have adopted a three-pronged approach as per the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

These include:

  • Health education including the type of worms, how transmission is taking place, prevention of worms and hand-washing integrated into the workbooks;
  • Regular deworming of children in schools; and
  • Provision of adequate sanitation, safe water and the maintenance thereof to be provided to schools.

The National Hygiene Programme has universal access for all Grade 1 learners in South Africa. It involves a 21-day in-class behaviour change campaign and provision of soap, toothpaste and tooth-brushes on all school days. We are eternally grateful to the primary sponsor of this programme, namely Unilever South Africa.

We are proud to announce that the National Hygiene Programme has reached over 3 million learners through teaching them proper hygiene habits, including hand-washing with soap.

Furthermore, Unilever has recently as part of the measures to halt the spread of COVID-19, extended its support for our hygiene measures by providing soaps to all schools in the country. We are talking here of two million (2 000 000) bars of soap and hand sanitisers to the value of forty million (R40 000 000) to assist in the implementation of these essential hand-washing lessons.

We are also grateful to UNICEF for the donation of new hand-washing stations to several schools to the value of one million (R1 000 000) to help learners practice regular hand-washing with soap all the time.

The Gauteng province is getting its fair share of the bar soaps, new hand-washing stations and sanitisers including this school, so definitely the Phamehlo Primary School will benefit.

With or without high-end sanitation facilities, we need to propagate the need for hand-washing with soap. It is the most cost-effective way of reducing diseases, thus promoting good hygiene and good health.

Programme Director, the health, social and educational consequences of poor hygiene is well established.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
poor hygiene and sanitation facilities are a barrier to the retention of learners in school. Diarrhoea and respiratory tract infections are associated with poor hygiene and are contributing to child mortality.

However, improved sanitation and hygiene in schools at a global level has been linked to improvements in children’s educational performance, reduction in absenteeism, especially for girls, and improved retention rates amongst teachers (UNICEF, 2009).


Other studies show that the global burden of disease and mortality rates amongst [school-going age] could be reduced by about 9.1% and 6.3%, respectively if rapid success is attained in facilitating access to water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities.

Researchers believe that a large proportion of these diseases are related to diarrhoea incidences which contribute to the mortality rate of about 1.9 million. Some 4 billion incidents of diarrhoea cases are reported annually especially among children under five years old. These are preventable through regular hand-washing with soap.

Sadly, the developing countries, South Africa included, account for around 19% of those mortality rates.  

Other research studies have shown that the effects of the lack of appropriate water facilities, hand-washing, and unhygienic practices have an adverse effect to child health. These include, amongst others, impaired cognitive learning.

There are other long-term adverse effects, including infections such as diarrhoea, worm infestations, and dehydrations which are attributed mainly to inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene conditions.

As part of integrated health promotion, we have the universal National Schools Deworming Programme. The programme covers all Grade R-7 learners in quintile 1-3 primary schools.

This holistic response appraises, protects, and improves the health of learners, intending to reduce absenteeism and increase academic achievement and ultimately, the quality of basic education.

Research from around the world suggests that combining deworming and hand-washing with soap, tooth-brushing, and acceptable sanitation practices in the Foundation Phase (Grade R-3) can significantly reduce the risk for diarrhoea and respiratory infection. It is thereby promoting school participation and heightened and conducive learning environment.

All three programmes, namely the National School Nutrition Programme, National Hygiene and National Deworming, are part of our pro-poor package, and proactive interventions to address the health needs of children especially those in precarious conditions. 

It is clear that as a country, we are already reaping the significant improvements in the health and education outcomes of learners through building knowledge, skills thus resulting in the self-sufficiency of learners in public schools.

To take these early gains to the next level, we are today initiating a process to make hand-washing part of teaching the alphabets in the Early Grades.

With the endorsement of UNICEF and the Publishers’ Associations, we are signing a declaration of intent, to promote the social message: H is for Hand-washing as a way of reinforcing the positive hand-washing behaviour.

We aim to make the letter ‘H’ the universally accepted symbol for Hand-washing as our contribution to saving the lives of many.

In conclusion, as President Cyril Ramaphosa has said, SA is dealing with twin epidemics, namely COVID-19 and the scourge of Gender-based violence (GBV). Our officials are busy on the ground rolling out the UNICEF-supported workshops on the Protocol for the Management and Reporting of Sexual Abuse and Harassment in Schools. Also, the Basic Education officials are orientating the several education officials on the National Strategic Plan for Gender-based Violence and Femicide. Ultimately, we hope to instil behavioural change amongst learners, teachers and communities to aim for clean hands: free of germs literally; and free of violence at the same time.

I thank you.

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Written By: Administrator Account
Date Posted: 10/29/2020
Number of Views: 578

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