Global Handwashing Day celebrated worldwide

UNICEF joins hundreds of millions of people across the globe today in celebrating the Global Handwashing Day, which emphasizes the importance of handwashing with soap as an effective, simple, and affordable way to prevent disease. UNICEF estimates that diarrhea kills 1.1 million children every year, and pneumonia-related illnesses take another 1.2 million child lives. Hand-washing with soap prevents disease in a more straightforward and cost-effective way than any single vaccine.

NEW YORK (October 14, 2011) —UNICEF joins hundreds of millions of people across the globe in celebrating the 4th annual Global Handwashing Day, which emphasizes the importance of handwashing with soap as an effective, simple, and affordable way to prevent disease.

A number of exciting events are taking place for the 2011 celebration of Global Hand-washing Day on October 15. Teachers, parents, celebrities and government officials are motivating millions to lather up to prevent life-threatening diseases such as diarrhea and acute respiratory infections.

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 hand-washing week as of October 10, and events will involve 3.5 million students in 20,000 schools. Eight million children in Rajasthan, India, and more than one million children in Pakistan will also participate in handwashing events. These and other activities promise to surpass celebrations in 2010, which saw 200 million people and 700,000 schools in more than 70 countries honoring the day.

These events are aimed at spreading a lifesaving message: clean hands save lives. UNICEF estimates that diarrhea kills 1.1 million children every year, and pneumonia-related illnesses take another 1.2 million child lives. Handwashing with soap prevents disease in a more straightforward and cost-effective way than any single vaccine.

The simple act of washing hands with soap at critical moments—such as after using the toilet or before handling food—is an easy and affordable intervention that can reduce the incidence of diarrhea among children under five by almost 50 percent, and cut respiratory infections by as much as 25%.

"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 hand-washing." Dooley added that UNICEF would like to ensure that handwashing with soap becomes a social norm in all countries.

Governments around the world have now adopted Global Handwashing Day as a national celebration to ensure that hand-washing with soap is promoted throughout the year. In 2010, for example, all schools –across Bangladesh—some 18 million children—participated in mass hand-washing demonstrations on October 15. The events were used as a platform to launch the Bangladesh government's National Hygiene Campaign which aims to change the way the country uses soap, and in particular to promote its use in handwashing.

"We are happy that this year other countries are following Bangladesh's example," Dooley says. "While we adults are always trying to discourage bad habits in children, the good habit of handwashing with soap is one we want every child to develop."

About Global Handwashing Day:

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

About UNICEF

UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian aid organization in the world. Working in more than 150 countries, UNICEF provides children with health and immunizations, clean water, nutrition, education, emergency and disaster relief, and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy, and education in the United States.

UNICEF is at the forefront of efforts to reduce child mortality worldwide. There has been substantial progress: the annual number of under-five deaths dropped from 13 million in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010. But still, 21,000 children die each day from preventable causes. Our mission is to do whatever it takes to make that number zero by giving children the essentials for a safe and healthy childhood.

For additional information, please contact:
Susannah Masur, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.880.9146, (m) 646.428.5010, smasur@unicefusa.org