Date Published: 15 October 2012
Global Handwashing Day: Handwashing isn't complicated, it's crucial ...
Today, 15th October 2012 is the 5th annual Global Handwashing Day.
The very simple act of handwashing with soap can save hundreds of thousands of children who needlessly die every year.
Child mortality figures released by UNICEF (Sept 2012) indicate that 2,000 children under 5 years old die each day from diarrhoeal diseases. Of these the vast majority or about 1,800 children per day die from diarrhoeal diseases due to a lack of safe water, sanitation and basic hygiene.
Although the situation is improving with the number of such child deaths per day significantly declined in the five years since Global Handwashing Day was established, it is still too high.
" Global Handwashing Day is more than just a day," said Therese Dooley, UNICEF's senior advisor on sanitation and hygiene.
" We want the message to spread from children to families, communities and nations. Halting the spread of diarrhoeal disease is not complicated, or costly, but it is critically important that handwashing with soap becomes routine for everyone."
This year UNICEF has new country-level data from household surveys showing the prevalence of handwashing in families. The data paint a diverse picture, which shows the practice differs from country to country and is influenced by location, culture and wealth.
For example, in Swaziland in 2010, 50% of urban families were likely to practice handwashing, compared to only 26% in rural areas. In Rwanda only 2% of the population practiced handwashing, with a negligible difference between rural and urban households. At the same time, 96% of the wealthiest households in Mongolia practice appropriate handwashing compared to 10% of the poorest.
As diarrhoeal diseases are basically faecal-oral in nature, one of the simplest and most inexpensive barriers to infection is handwashing with soap at critical times, such as before handling food and after defecation or changing a diaper.
This year the message will be carried by millions of school children in over 100 countries in a month of activities. In Ethiopia, 5 million people including children will participate in public handwashing events on Global Handwashing Day. In India, children in 1.3 million primary and upper primary schools will celebrate the day.
In Yemen, UNICEF and its partners are sending SMS texts to 2.5 million mobile phone users about the importance of handwashing while almost 1 million school children will take part in related activities. In Vietnam, the campaign has already started with a television spot featuring comedian Xuan Bac, a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene ambassador, who sings a handwashing song with children.
" We are pulling out all the stops to ensure that everyone gets the message," said Dooley. "You don't need to invent some Nobel Prize winning formula to save millions of children. The solution already exists: soap and water."