April 7, 2015
This year, World Health Day has a special focus: #foodsafety. Since a key part of food safety is handwashing, the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing convened a webinar to discuss the links between food hygiene and child health and nutrition, with a focus on implementing food hygiene in low and middle income country settings.
First, we heard about why food hygiene matters so much for child health and nutrition. Julia Rosenbaum, the Deputy Director and Senior Behavior Change Advisor for USAID’s WASHPlus project at FHI360 explained the vicious cycle of diarrhea and undernutrition. When children are undernourished, they are more susceptible to diarrhea. When they have diarrhea, they eat less, plus their bodies are less good at absorbing nutrients from food. This is why nutritious foods can only ever be part of the stunting solution. To achieve good child health and nutrition, we need to eliminate routes by which germs can move from feces to food–and one of the most effective ways of doing that is by handwashing with soap before handling food.
Handwashing is part of the 5 Keys to Safer Food recommended by The World Health Organization. A technical brief published today by the FANTA Project further underlines the most effective steps we can take. But we all know there can be many challenges in the transition from current practice to ideal practice, particularly in low-income settings. Fortunately, food safety is a continuum. Julia explained how everyone can take “small doable actions” to help us shift from current practice towards ideal practice, wherever we are in the continuum of behavior.
One effort that does just that has been the recent–and first–cluster randomized food hygiene intervention trial in a low-income setting. The lead investigator, OmPrasad Gautam, PhD fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Technical Support Manager for hygiene at WaterAid UK, was inspired by his personal experiences of malnutrition related to poor food safety while growing up in Nepal. As a result, he researched key interventions to improve food safety. In our webinar, he described the importance of fully understanding local practices and motivators before designing a targeted food hygiene intervention. His intervention used an approach of addressing the physical, biological, and social behavioral settings that impacted food hygiene, and leveraging emotional motivators for behavior change, focusing on nurture, disgust, social respect, and affiliation. The results were impressive; there was a significant improvement in food hygiene and reduction in contamination of food. Watch a video about this work and read his hot-off-the-press World Health Day blog on this subject.
Alongside behavior change, there is an important role for policy in food hygiene. Sue Coates, WASH Chief for UNICEF India, spoke about UNICEF’s work with the Indian Government to institutionalize handwashing in Food Safety and Hygiene Guidelines, achieving a directive for handwashing with soap before the midday meal in schools, reaching 110 million children every day. She discussed how policy action can deliver impressive reach, increased sustainability, dedicated funding, commitment and accountability, and new hygiene champions, presenting an inspiring lesson for policymakers in other countries. You can watch a video about their work on this initiative here.
This World Health Day, let’s all think about how we can ensure food hygiene is well integrated into our work in the WASH, health, nutrition or education sectors. If you missed the webinar, you can watch a recording here or below. Happy World Health Day!
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