Everyone can make a difference in the “Clean hands saves lives” campaign
Washington DC, 15 October 2009 – Each year, diarrhoeal diseases and acute
respiratory infections are responsible for the deaths of more than 3.5 million
children under the age of five.
The second annual Global Handwashing Day, being celebrated today, shines a
spotlight on the importance of handwashing with soap and water as one of the
most effective and affordable health interventions.
Water alone is not enough. Washing hands with soap and water especially at the
critical times — after using the toilet and before handling food — helps
reduce the incidence of diarrhoeal disease by more than 40 per cent and
respiratory infections by nearly 25 per cent. Furthermore, washing hands with
soap is also being recommended as a critical action to prevent the spread of
Yet, despite its life-saving potential, handwashing with soap is seldom
practiced and not always easy to promote.
Although soap is available in most households around the world, observed rates
of handwashing with soap at critical moments range from zero to 34 per cent.
For successful, and sustained behavioural change to occur, it is vital to
incorporate community-based and community-sensitive approaches that understand
what motivates people to change.
Unsafe water and inadequate sanitation are often major causes of lost work and
missed school days, perpetuating the cycle of economic and social stagnation in
many countries. Investments in health, child survival, education, water
supply, and sanitation are all jeopardized if there is a lack of emphasis on
handwashing with soap.
Under the slogan of “Clean hands save lives,” the second annual GlobalHandwashing Day campaign aims to engage schoolchildren as effective agents for
change. The introduction of water, sanitation and hygiene interventions in
schools, including handwashing with soap, is an entry point for children to
understand and then take these good hygiene practices back into their homes and
Improved sanitation and hygiene programmes combined with handwashing education
directly impact the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 2: universal primary
education and MDG 3: gender equality via higher enrolment, attendance and
retention rates in schools for both girls and boys. Additionally, higher rates
of handwashing with soap would significantly contribute towards meeting the MDG
4 of reducing deaths of children under the age of five by two-thirds by 2015.
Handwashing with soap represents a cornerstone of public health and can be
considered an affordable, accessible “do-it-yourself” vaccine.
Approximately 200 million children lathered up for last year’s inaugural Global
Handwashing Day in 86 countries across five continents. From Colombia to
Bangladesh, from Kenya to the Philippines, from the United Kingdom to Ethiopia,
schools and communities worldwide organized and participated in celebrations
and handwashing campaigns.
This year millions more, including, children, teachers, parents, celebrities,
and government officials in over 80 countries, plan to join the celebrations.
Global Handwashing Day is an initiative of the Global Public-Private
Partnership for Handwashing with Soap, and is endorsed by a wide array of
governments, international institutions, civil society organizations, NGOs,
private companies and individuals worldwide.