Hundreds of millions of people across the globe will celebrate Global Handwashing Day on 15 October, conveying the message that handwashing with soap is an effective, simple, and affordable way to prevent diseases.

In Afghanistan, 1.7 million children from 1,700 schools will wash hands; in Eritrea, 326,809 children in 1,272 schools will do the same. In Peru, the government has declared a national handwashing week, and events will involve 3.5 million students in 20,000 schools.

These events are spreading a life-saving message: clean hands save lives. UNICEF estimates that diarrhoea kills 1.1 million children every year, and pneumonia-related illnesses take another 1.2 million child lives.

The simple act of washing hands after using the toilet or before handling food is an easy and affordable intervention that can reduce diarrhoea among children under five by almost 50 per cent, and cut respiratory infections by as much as 25 per cent. 

"Soap is not in short supply, even in developing countries," said Therese Dooley, UNICEF’s Senior Adviser for Hygiene and Sanitation. "The vast majority of poor households have soap in the home. The problem is that soap is used for laundry or bathing, but rarely for handwashing."

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A little girl shows her clean hands after handwashing at a county nursery in Democratic People's Republic of Korea.  © UNICEF/DRKA2008-00005/Ina Jurga
A little girl shows her clean hands after handwashing at a county nursery in Democratic People's Republic of Korea. © UNICEF/DRKA2008-00005/Ina Jurga