On Global Handwashing Day UNICEF says: It’s not complicated, but it’s crucial
JAKARTA, 15 October 2012 – As the world celebrates the fifth annual Global Handwashing Day today, UNICEF emphasizes the fact that the very simple act of handwashing with soap can save hundreds of thousands of children who needlessly die every year around the world.
Child mortality figures released by UNICEF last month show that globally some 2,000 children under five 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.
In Indonesia, diarrhoeal disease is responsible for about one-quarter of the 130,000 annual deaths amongst children under five. This threatens the important progress made by Indonesia in halving child mortality rates over the last 20 years.
“Global Handwashing Day is more than just a day,” said Angela Kearney, UNICEF Representative to Indonesia. “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 per cent of urban families were likely to practice handwashing, compared to only 26 per cent in rural areas. In Rwanda only 2 per cent of the population practiced handwashing. At the same time, 96 per cent of the wealthiest households in Mongolia practice appropriate handwashing compared to 10 per cent of the poorest.
In Indonesia, the 2007 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) found that handwashing rates amongst women are very high, at 96 per cent. However the data does not identify the key times when women wash their hands (such as before food preparation) and does not distinguish between handwashing with or without soap.
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.
UNICEF, with the Global Public Private Partnership for Handwashing, is also rolling out a social media campaign with the hashtag #iwashmyhands which has already reached thousands around the world. The partnership has also developed a ‘World Wash Up’ game on the Global Handwashing Day (http://globalhandwashing.org/) site that invites players to zap germs.
“We are pulling out all the stops to ensure that everyone gets the message,” said Ms. Kearney. “You don’t need to invent a new formula to save millions of children. The solution already exists: soap and water.”