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Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2012 Mar;25(2):149-54. doi: 10.1097/YCO.0b013e32834fda33.

Hygiene behaviour and health attitudes in African countries.

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Department of Health System Management and Policy, University of Limpopo, Turfloop, South Africa.



In African countries, the biggest killers of young children are respiratory infections and diarrhoeal disease, and both are preventable via hand washing. Regular tooth brushing, at least twice a day, is one of the most effective methods for the control and prevention of dental caries and periodontal diseases. Both these oral diseases are infectious diseases (caused by bacteria) and thus can be controlled by proper oral hygiene. This review aims to provide updated research related to hygiene behaviours in African countries in three areas: children, community and healthcare setting.


Suboptimal hygiene knowledge and behaviour (hand washing, hand washing with soap and oral hygiene) were found among African children, contributing to diarrhoeal diseases, helminth infections, dental caries, periodontal diseases and other communicable diseases. Several promising intervention studies have been done to increase hygiene behaviours among children and adolescents and may need to be scaled up. Community studies found faecal contamination on hands to be common and to be associated with various ill-health conditions. Several innovative interventions to improve hand hygiene behaviours in the community setting show promising results. Healthcare-associated infections due to lack of hand hygiene are common in Africa and interventions need to be developed and implemented.


Hand and oral hygiene are suboptimal in both community and healthcare settings. Several promising hygiene intervention strategies have been found effective and may be scaled up in African countries.

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