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Over 300,000 children under five died from diarrhoeal diseases linked to limited access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene in 2015 - UNICEF

 Simple act of handwashing with soap could save thousands of lives

ACCRA, 17 October 2016
 – With cholera spreading fast in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, and with a new outbreak in war-ravaged Yemen, UNICEF urges children, families and communities to make washing hands with soap a habit to help prevent the spread of diseases.

On the occasion of Global Handwashing Day, celebrated every year on 15 October, UNICEF says that, in 2015, more than 300,000 children under the age of five died globally from diarrhoeal infections linked to poor access to safe drinking water and sanitation – a rate of more than 800 per day. Yet many of these deaths could have been prevented through the simple act of handwashing with soap.

Every year, 1.4 million children are dying from preventable diseases like pneumonia and diarrhoea,” said UNICEF’s global head of water, sanitation and hygiene Sanjay Wijesekera. “These are staggering numbers, but they could be greatly reduced by working with children and families to adopt a very straightforward solution – handwashing. We know, for example, that handwashing with soap before meals and after using the toilet could reduce the incidence of diarrhoeal infections by 40 %.” 

Proper handwashing practice also contributes to the healthy development of children by keeping them in school. Handwashing actually improves school attendance by reducing the spread of preventable diseases, which means children are not staying home because of illness.   

In Ghana, over 10,000 Ghanaian children die each year from diarrhoea and pneumonia. Handwashing with soap alone could reduce diarrhoea by up to 50% and pneumonia by 25%, yet only 20% of Ghanaians wash their hands. The awareness about the importance of the practise remains low with a hand washing rate growth of only 8% over the last three years. Thousands of lives could be saved if washing hands becomes a habit for everyone.

Facts on Handwashing:

§  1 gram of faeces contains 100 million bacteria.

§  Approximately 1 in 5 people globally wash their hands after using the toilet.

§  Each year, 1.7 million children do not live to celebrate their fifth birthday because of diarrhoea and pneumonia.

§  When children wash their hands with soap after going to the toilet or before eating, they reduce their risk of getting diarrhoea by more than 40 per cent. 

§  Acute respiratory infections like pneumonia are the leading cause of death in children under the age of five.

§  Evidence suggests that handwashing with soap after using the toilet and before eating could reduce the pneumonia infection rate among children by around a quarter.


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.


For more information, please contact:

Offeibea Baddoo, UNICEF Ghana, 024-466-3643



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