In urban slums, enhancing family hygiene can prevent about half of childhood diarrhea and respiratory illnesses, including pneumonia, researchers working in Pakistan report. Benefits extend even to infants too young to wash themselves.
Studies have indicated that simply washing hands can reduce the spread of infections in daycare centers and other settings in industrialized countries, but how much of a difference hygiene could make in poor nations remained unclear. Diarrhea and pneumonia each kill nearly 2 million children per year worldwide, making them the leading causes of child mortality.
To test the impact of promoting hand washing, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Procter & Gamble of Cincinnati, and two collaborating organizations provided soap to 600 homes in Karachi, Pakistan. Some families already used soap but may have done so sparingly because of cost.
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