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Millions of South Asian children make an ordinary act extraordinary

Dhaka 14 October, 2008: In what is thought to be the biggest ever exercise of its kind, more than 120 million children across South Asia will wash their hands with soap in the same way to mark Global Hand Washing Day in the International Year of Sanitation. From Kabul to Karachi, Kathmandu to Kerala and Colombo to Dhaka, Wednesday 15 October is likely to break all records as millions and millions of children practice the power of proper sanitation through soap suds and pledging not to leave their human excreta in the open.

“Children are the most powerful agents of change in the society, commented UNICEF Representative Carel de Rooy. If children learn basic hygiene education and practice from the beginning of their lives, they can work as a catalyst to change the whole society”.

South Asia has the highest rate in the world of people using no toilet at all – 48 % of the population – with some 778 million people still relying on open defecation, the riskiest sanitation practice of all. The hygiene promotion activities and events are aimed at lifting the lid on this, one of the world’s “last taboos” which presents serious health risks from diarrhoea, worm infestations, hepatitis and acute respiratory infections like pneumonia – all the biggest killers of children. It is also one of the greatest environmental hazards and the greatest contributor to malnutrition in the region.

In Bangladesh, according to the Health Impact Study conducted by ICDDR,B  in 100 randomly selected communities in 34 districts in 2008, and supported jointly by UNICEF and the Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE), 13% of people reported washing hands with soap before eating, but less than 1% of people were seen to do this during observation. Similarly 52% of people reported washing hands with soap or ash after defecation, but only 17% of people were seen to do this during observation. While many people surveyed practice some form of handwashing, in most cases people do not use soap or ash and only one hand is washed. Such practices do not remove the germs and do not prevent the transmission of diseases such as diarrhea or pneumonia. The Study shows that the disease burden and the cost of care is significant for households.

Studies have proven that effective hand washing -- for at least 20 seconds -- with soap, cuts deaths from pneumonia and diarrhoea by some 50 percent. Hand washing with soap before meals and after using the toilet, is the single most inexpensive health intervention in the world. Sanitation offers the chance of saving the lives of more than a half a million children in the region each year and it also would make a significant contribution to the region meeting the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs.

The government of Bangladesh along with its partners will observe the day throughout the country. A joint press briefing will be organized at the Department of Public Health Office on 15 October 2008 by the Adviser of the Local Govt. Division along with partner organizations. TV and radio stations will broadcast talk shows and public service announcements on the same day.

On 22 October, more that 16 million children from 73,000 primary and secondary schools will wash their hands with soap and children will pledge to promote hand washing with soap after defecation and before meal.

Along with Bangladesh, more than 45 countries around the world will celebrate and mark this day, the first of its kind. This is an initiative of the Global Public Private Partnership on Hand washing (PPPHW), involving soap companies, NGOs, and UN organizations, as a contribution to the International Year of Sanitation. It is intended to go beyond 2008 and will be celebrated in coming years.

For more information please contact:
• Christine Jaulmes, UNICEF Chief, Communication and Information; Tel: 9336701-10/Ext 209
• Arifa S. Sharmin, UNICEF Communication. Specialist, Tel: 9336701-10/Ext 442



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