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Speech by Patrizia Di Giovanni, UNICEF Deputy Representative to Ethiopia on Global Handwashing Day

Statement by Patrizia Di Giovanni,

UNICEF Deputy Representative to Ethiopia

On the occasion of the commemoration of Global Handwashing Day

Menilik II Preparatory School, Addis Ababa

01 November, 2013


State Minister of Health, Honourable Dr. Kebede Worku

State Minister of Education, Honourable Fuad Ibrahim

State Minister of Water and Energy, Honourable Kebede Gerba

Honourable Ambassadors and Heads of Missions

Senior Government Officials, UN colleagues

Colleagues from the private sector, Civil Society organizations, members of the media and the school community


Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today, we are joining hands with millions of children and adults across Ethiopia and around the globe to celebrate Global Handwashing Day with the theme of “More than just a day – The power is in your hands”.  The power to save ourselves and our children is now literally in our hands by washing with soap or ash and water at critical times. It is one of the most simple and powerful ways to improve our health.

However, the practice has not been as easy. According to a study conducted by UNICEF in 2012: worldwide, 1,400 children under the age of five still die every day from diarrheal diseases caused by lack of safe water, sanitation and basic hygiene.

In Ethiopia, diarrhea kills an average of 106 children daily. Children who suffer repeated bouts of diarrheal diseases are often unable to maintain good nutritional status, and can become permanently ‘stunted’. In addition, poor environmental hygiene also contributes to acute respiratory infections, and malnutrition, which are the ‘top three’ killers of children under the age of five.

The research also indicated that a simple act of  Handwashing with soap or ash at critical times before preparing food and eating, after using the toilet and cleaning a child’s bottom – can reduce diarrhoea morbidity up to 45 per cent

However, as the National Hygiene and Sanitation Strategic Action Plan 2011-2015 reveals, less than 20 per cent of the population regularly washes their hands. The Government has recognized the importance of handwashing, and has set its targets in the Health Sector Development Programme IV that by 2015 at least 77 per cent of the population would practice Handwashing with soap or ash at critical times. 

Ladies and gentlemen in order to reach this target and to improve the health of all Ethiopians, and especially children, the following three issues should be considered:

First Hand washing with soap or ash is easy to do, but this simple behavior is not practiced regularly. The 38,000 government salaried health extension workers have taken the vital task to promote Handwashing at the community level under Community Led Total Sanitation and Hygiene approach. Health Extension Workers discuss the use of latrines and washing hands with water and soap at critical times with the community. A community will only be declared ‘Open Defecation Free’ officially, once people practice safe Handwashing. But this work needs a national Handwashing strategy to consolidate all the efforts to promote Handwashing behavior. Currently, focused efforts on hygiene promotion are less well defined and not comprehensive.

UNICEF is supporting the Federal Ministry of Health to develop National Handwashing Communication guidelines, This is important because these guidelines will help mobilize mass interest, commitment and participation of the Ethiopian population, especially children and youth, in making Handwashing with soap or ash a national social norm, by popularizing the practice through multiple communication channels including media platforms and incorporating local cultures. Thus the national guideline needs to be finalized and endorsed at the earliest.

Second, provision of a WASH facility is no longer the sole responsibility of the government. Increased Public-private partnerships will allow us to reach Universal Action Plan target for practicing Handwashing with soap or ash. As this year’s theme: “The Power is in Your Hands” implies, everyone can contribute to create healthier communities through Handwashing with soap or ash. 

It is time to look outside of the usual list of collaborations and partner with private organizations that also have a lot to offer. When it comes to promoting Handwashing with soap or ash, we can take a lesson from the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap; a coalition of governments, donors, the private sector, academia, non-governmental and community based organizations that focus on Handwashing and child health.

In this global partnership, the private sector brings state-of-the-art marketing know-how and techniques to the table, and scientific organizations contribute with new knowledge on the effectiveness of Handwashing and the latest behavior-change theory. Such collaboration would revamp national efforts that are already underway to increase access to adequate and safe water and sanitation provisions.

Thirdly, a key entry point to upscale Handwashing is in schools. Children are known to be important behavior change agents. As part of the design and construction manual for WASH facilities in primary schools, there are national standards for Handwashing facilities in schools: they should be near the toilet, provided with soap and connected to water supply, accessible for smaller children and provide some privacy for adult girls.

Currently, UNICEF is looking into the internationally practiced 3-star approach for WASH in schools and how this can be adopted to the Ethiopian context. Like the standards given to hotels and restaurant businesses, schools will receive stars, according to the progress they’re making.

A school will receive one star if all children practice in daily supervised group Handwashing before the school meal. Two stars are given when children also wash their hands after using the toilet, and three stars are awarded if a school meets the national standards, which includes the national wash facilities standard. This approach aims to improve hygiene behavior change and promote child-friendly schools.

Finally, the recently launched One National WASH Programme has the potential to further upscale Handwashing practices, as it has a sector wide approach and involving the ministry of Water and energy, Ministry of health, education and of finance bringing all stakeholders under one umbrella to jointly work in making Handwashing a social norm.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my belief that we can make a real, practical and significant difference in the health and well-being of children in Ethiopia and around the world and the annual commemoration of Global Handwashing Day will be the day we exhibit our progress.

Change begins from us, so let us wash our hands with soap or ash at critical times daily!

I thank you wish you a very good Global Handwashing Day.



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