Washing hands with soap prevents diarrhea. However, children at the highest risk of death from diarrhea are too young to wash their own hands.
In this study, researchers from Pakistan and the United States evaluated the effect of promoting household handwashing with soap among children at the highest risk of death from diarrhea.
They study was set in 36 low-income neighborhoods in urban squatter settlements in Karachi, Pakistan.
Households included in the study had at least 2 children aged less 15 years, 1 of whom was younger than 5 years.
The team supplied 300 households (1523 children) with a regular supply of antibacterial soap and a further 300 households (1640 children) with plain soap.
|Children in intervention group had a 53% lower incidence of diarrhea.|
|Journal of the American Medical Association|
The study team visited participating households at least once a week from 2002 to 2003. They promoted handwashing with soap after defecation and before preparing food, eating, and feeding a child.
An additional 306 households (1528 children) comprised the control group and received no intervention.
The researchers found that the children in households that received handwashing promotion and plain soap had a 53% lower incidence of diarrhea compared to children in the control group.
In addition, infants in the households that received handwashing promotion and plain soap had 39% fewer days with diarrhea, compared to the controls.
The team also found that severely malnourished children (< 5 years) in the plain soap households had 42% fewer days with diarrhea than the controls.
Similar reductions in diarrhea were observed among children living in households receiving antibacterial soap.
Dr Stephen Luby and colleagues concluded, "In a setting in which diarrhea is a leading cause of child death, improvement in handwashing in the household reduced the incidence of diarrhea among children at high risk of death from diarrhea".