A study of self-reported handwashing practices of caregivers in relation to acute respiratory infections and gastroenteritis in infants in a peri-urban community in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa

N M Nsele, N H McKerrow


Background. Handwashing is a recognised cost-effective intervention for the prevention of common childhood infections, including pneumonia and diarrhoeal disease. Globally, handwashing practices may be poor and little is known about handwashing practices in South Africa. 

Objectives. To describe and compare handwashing practises of caregivers whose infants are admitted with acute gastroenteritis and acute lower respiratory tract infection with those of healthy infants who are attending primary healthcare clinics for routine immunisation. 

Methods. A cross-sectional study of self-reported handwashing practices was conducted among caregivers of infants from the Vulindlela area, Pietermaritzburg. Respondents were interviewed regarding household structure, services and handwashing practices. 

Results. During the 3-month study period, 137 respondents were interviewed. Of these, 41 (30%) had infants with pneumonia, 41 (30%) with diarrhoea and 55 (40%) had healthy infants. A high rate of handwashing with soap and water (81.8%) was found in this study, with 58.4% of the respondents using running rather than stagnant water. Logistic regression identified some variables associated with higher odds of having a healthy infant, namely: a monthly household income >ZAR2 000 (odds ratio (OR) 4.74; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.99 - 11.25); washing hands with soap and running water (OR 3.88; 95% CI 1.55 - 9.76); washing hands before eating (OR 7.41; 95% CI 0.79 - 68.76), and washing hands after household chores (OR 9.24; 95% CI 1.85 - 46.25). 

Conclusion. A higher than anticipated number of participants washed their hands with soap and running water and at critical moments.

Authors' affiliations

N M Nsele, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

N H McKerrow, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health, Durban, South Africa

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Cite this article

South African Journal of Child Health 2019;13(1):23-26. DOI:10.7196/SAJCH.2019.v13i1.1532

Article History

Date submitted: 2019-04-11
Date published: 2019-04-11

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