Handwashing rates lowest in low-income countries 

15 October 2015 – Handwashing with soap is dangerously low in many countries, Unicef reports, despite its proven benefits to child health.

The eighth Global Handwashing Day comes less than a month after the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, including hygiene for the first time in the global agenda. One of the SDG targets is to achieve ‘access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene’ by 2030.  

Unicef says improvements in hygiene must supplement access to water and sanitation, or children will continue to fall victim to easily preventable diseases like diarrhoea. 

“Along with drinking water and access to toilets, hygiene – particularly handwashing with soap – is the essential third leg of the stool holding up the Goal on water and sanitation,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, global head of Unicef’s water, sanitation and hygiene programmes. “From birth – when unwashed hands of birth attendants can transmit dangerous pathogens – right through babyhood, school and beyond, handwashing is crucial for a child’s health. It is one of the cheapest, simplest, most effective health interventions we have.”

Sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the highest child mortality rates globally, also has particularly low levels of handwashing. The latest report from Unicef and WHO says that in 38 countries in the region with available data, levels are at best 50 per cent. 

Even health care facilities often lack places for handwashing. Some 42 per cent of them in WHO’s Africa Region have no water source available within 500 meters. 

Meanwhile, according to the UN’s latest estimates, over 800 of the approximately 1,400 child deaths from diarrhoea each day can be attributed to inadequate water, sanitation or hygiene. Infants in the first month of life are particularly vulnerable to diseases transmitted by unwashed hands. 

A number of activities around the world will mark Global Handwashing Day and aim to teach the importance of handwashing with soap especially to children.

Democratic Republic of the Congo: A national drawing competition on handwashing in schools will reach 300,000 students in 1,500 schools; and messages will reach 3,000,000 people in 5,500 villages. 

Haiti: A soccer match (Clean Hands vs. Dirty Hands) is planned, as well as a parade, community radio spots, songs, poems, a drawing competition and handwashing demonstrations in public places.

Kiribati: All 94 Primary Schools, 24 Junior Secondary Schools and 16 Senior Secondary Schools will take part in group hand washing. Students will design posters and banners, and promote handwashing in marches, song, dancing, drama, speech, poems and art. 

Sri Lanka: The Government of Sri Lanka is hosting a week-long learning exchange among schools to establish best practice for programmes across Asia and the Pacific. Unicef Ambassador for South Asia, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, will be involved in promoting the importance of handwashing.

Viet Nam: 8,000 children will participate in an event aimed at helping them to encourage their families to practice handwashing with soap.

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Notes for editors:

For further information please contact the Unicef UK Press Office on +44 (0)20 7375 6030 or media@unicef.org.uk

About Global Handwashing Day

Global Handwashing Day is celebrated on October 15. The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap initiated Global Handwashing Day in 2008, and it is endorsed by governments, international institutions, civil society organisations, NGOs, private companies and individuals around the globe. Visit www.globalhandwashingday.org

About Unicef

Unicef is the world’s leading organisation for children, promoting the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.  

Unicef UK raises funds to protect children in danger, transform their lives and build a safer world for tomorrow’s children.  As a registered charity we raise funds through donations from individuals, organisations and companies and we lobby and campaign to keep children safe. Unicef UK also runs programmes in schools, hospitals and with local authorities in the UK. For more information please visit Unicef.org.uk