Media centre


Latest news



Ethical Guidelines

Contact information


In the fight to save children’s lives, washing hands takes centre stage

© UNICEF Tajikistan / 2008
Handwashing poster from Tajikistan

First Global Handwashing Day 2008 celebrated worldwide

NEW YORK, 15 October 2008 – Today marks the first ever Global Handwashing Day, celebrated in over 70 countries across five continents in an effort to mobilize and motivate millions around the world to wash their hands with soap.

Handwashing with soap is one of the most effective and inexpensive ways to prevent diarrheal disease and pneumonia, which together are responsible for approximately 3.5 million child deaths every year.

The United Nations General Assembly declared 2008 the International Year of Sanitation (IYS). Global Handwashing Day reinforces the IYS’s call for improved sanitation and hygiene practices.

Children are highly susceptible to the diseases caused by a lack of effective sanitation and poor hygiene. More than 5,000 children under the age of five die every day as a result of diarrheal diseases, caused in part by unsafe water, lack of access to basic sanitation facilities and poor hygiene.

By washing hands with soap, families and communities can help reduce child morbidity rates from diarrheal diseases by almost 50 per cent.

To achieve this reduction, and for large scale, community-sensitive, and sustainable change to occur, partnerships with national and local governments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), religious and community leaders, schools and the private sector are essential.

The inaugural Global Handwashing Day focuses on children and schools. After learning about improved hygiene behaviour in schools, children can act as agents of change by taking these messages home to their families and communities. From Afghanistan to Peru, children, school teachers, and parents will join celebrities, government officials, members of civil society and the private sector to raise awareness about handwashing with soap.

Handwashing with soap, particularly after using the toilet and before eating, could significantly impact health, survival, child mortality, and help reduce poverty.  Stepping up investment for water, sanitation and hygiene will speed the achievement of all eight Millennium Development Goals.



 Email this article

unite for children