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15 October: Global Handwashing Day

The simple act of washing hands with soap can save millions of lives

Washing hands with soap can reduce the risk of diarrhoeal diseases by up to 47 per cent and interventions to promote hand washing might save a million lives, according to a Lancet Infectious Diseases report in 2003.

It is a common habit commonly neglected. But its consequence can be disastrous. Diarrhoea kills more than 2 million children every year. And human excreta, warns the Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing, a global initiative, is the source of most diarrhoeal pathogens.

For all its simplicity, handwashing could have a torrential influence on reaching the Millennium Development Goals related to child health improvements and water supply and sanitation services (access and effective use of) – two of the MDG targets.   The UN declared 2008 to be the International Year of Sanitation as a way of streamlining action for improving sanitation facilities and hygiene practices.

To protect children from diarrhoea and improve the world’s hygiene and sanitation environment, UNICEF has teamed with the Water and Sanitation Program of the World Bank, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the Academy for Educational Development, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Bank-Netherlands Water Partnership, the Hygiene Improvement Project of USAID, Proctor and Gamble, and Unilever to create the Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing initiative. 

The idea is to get private industry and the public sector to work together with other partners to develop programmes to promote handwashing with soap.

© UNICEF Viet Nam/ Jim Holmes

The practice of handwashing with soap tops the international hygiene agenda this year with the first-ever Global Handwashing Day, slated for Wednesday, 15 October 2008.  Within its East Asia and Pacific region, UNICEF is helping to organize the following activities in ten countries:

Cambodia: National launch ceremony includes as guest speakers the Ministers of Rural Development, Health and Education, the UN Resident Coordinator, the UNICEF Representative; participants include local comedian Chhab Chean, school children and possibly the King of Cambodia. Events include television advertising, primary school activities and ceremonies in 100 villages in nine provinces.

China: Awareness-raising through information and entertaining events are planned for public places, such as parks, busy streets and children’s amusement centres to reach both young people and adults. 

Indonesia: Talk shows and other media events (a parade of 1,000 children and parents washing their hands) organized with the Ministry of Health and partners (including USAID, CARE, Unilever- Indonesia, Reckitt Benckiser). Global Handwashing events in 22 districts and two cities of nine provinces will involve about 6,000 elementary school children. Media training will be provided for 50 journalists, with the aim of producing television attention. The ongoing campaign will include information and education materials.
Lao PDR: Hygiene and Sanitation Day activities will take place in all primary and secondary schools and teacher training colleges and will include cleaning the premises and surrounding environment, hanging banners to promote hand washing and good hygiene practices, and game playing. During the week of 15 October, the national TV and provincial radio stations will air hand washing service announcements. Banners also will be displayed in the streets of the Vientiane capital.

Mongolia: Public service announcements to be broadcasted, including cartoon instructions on proper hand washing practice for children. For the Global Handwashing Day, the Ministers of Health and Education will visit a kindergarten in Ulaanbaatar City to promote handwashing while four governors will make similar visits in their provincial capitals.

Pacific islands: Campaign activities planned for Fiji, Kiribati, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, with heavy use of information and education materials to reach children and their parents or caregivers. 

Papua New Guinea:  Campaign activities planned in collaboration with the Ministries of Health and Education and other UN agencies, following on the start of a water supply and sanitation project in schools, health facilities and communities.

Philippines: In partnership with Safeguard (private sector) and the Departments of Health and Education, a hand washing campaign will be launched on the Global Handwashing Day in one of Metro Manila’s parks. It will include a press conference, a handprint-making activity with children the Museum for Children, a signing of 4 million-peso government commitment (US$100,000) to for two years to support a water and sanitation programme in Mindanao in an area of recent cholera outbreak (initially benefiting 1,500 children in five schools) and a road show to promote handwashing in schools, businesses and the media (prior to the global day). Advocacy and education campaign through media attention, banners and posters on the Metro Rail Transit will begin 1 October.

Timor-Leste: Activities planned in conjunction with the Ministry of Health and its Sanitation Working Group to raise awareness and promote good hygiene practices.   

Viet Nam:  A School Hygiene and Sanitation Day, in collaboration with the Ministries of Education and Training and Health, is planned in 80 primary and lower secondary schools, involving some 24,000 children. Other activities will tie in with the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Programme, which has been coordinating the Handwashing Initiative.




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