Remarks by Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, at the Global Handwashing Day: Accelerating Toward Hand Hygiene for All Event

As prepared for delivery

24 November 2020
Deux écoliers se lavent les mains joyeusement

NEW YORK, 15 October 2020 – "Good morning, and welcome everyone.

"UNICEF thanks our co-hosts today — the UK and Finnish Missions to the UN, our sister agencies, civil society groups, and our private sector partners joining us today.

"Handwashing with soap has always been a lifesaving investment. It’s one of the simplest — and most cost-effective — things we can do to keep ourselves, and our families and communities, healthy and disease-free.

"COVID-19 has reminded us all of the importance of good hand hygiene — as a vital first line of defense against the virus.

"But as we heard in the introductory video today, for billions of people, this simple, effective health intervention is out of reach.

"In their homes, which lack soap and water.

"In schools, which lack basic hygiene services.

"And even healthcare facilities — one in three of which lack hand-hygiene facilities.

"Even before the pandemic, this lack of access already affected the most disadvantaged people.

"This includes the world’s poorest people, many of whom life in overcrowded and impoverished communities. And it includes refugees and children of emergencies living in camps and shelters.

"They’re already at a great disadvantage. What chance do they have against the COVID-19 virus without running water or even a bar of soap?  

"That’s why today’s event is so important. It’s a chance to shine a spotlight on this critical issue and what we need to do about it.

"Our Hand Hygiene for All Initiative is an important step in this regard.

"It’s a new effort that brings together governments, businesses, civil society and agencies like ours to make hand hygiene a cornerstone not only of our response to COVID-19 — but a feature of every household, school and community in the world beyond the pandemic.

"But bringing this vision to life means building new political will and new sources of funding and financing.

"Of course, governments have a role to play. UNICEF is supporting their efforts to bridge COVID-19 response plans with longer-term national plans, and invest in stronger water and hygiene infrastructure. This includes ensuring that hygiene products and practices are a mainstay in our responses, including in camp settings, schools and health care facilities. We must leave no one behind.

"But our work must also include greater private sector involvement and innovation. 

"I’ve been speaking to a number of CEOs as part of the COVID-19 response.

"They’re stepping-up with offers of funding and contributions in kind. Unilever and Colgate-Palmolive have generously contributed soap and other hygiene products.

"They’re helping us strengthen and speed-up the supply chains for critical items like soap and sanitizer.

"They’re helping us scale-up innovations for communities in need. Through our partnership with LIXIL, for example, we have designed a low-cost, low water-flow handwashing device that can help more households fulfill this basic need.

"We’ve launched an initiative with the World Economic Forum, WHO and the World Bank to gather more partners, ideas and funding around the need for greater hygiene.

"And we’re working on a new Climate-Friendly Water Financing Facility in partnership with KOIS Invest. Through this blended finance initiative, we have a pipeline of projects under development worth more than $500 million. We want to bring water closer to home for people, and invest in new ideas to make this happen.

"In short — hand hygiene is everyone’s business. We must work together, all of us, on this priority — through and beyond the pandemic.

"Today’s panelists will outline new ideas and approaches that will help us bring this vision to life, for every person.

"Let’s use this extraordinary moment to shine a light on the importance of hand hygiene — and bring more partners, ideas and investment to this vital work. Thank you."


Media contacts

Timothy James Irwin
Chief of Communication
UNICEF Madagascar
Fanja Saholiarisoa
Communication Officer
UNICEF Madagascar


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.

Follow UNICEF on TwitterFacebook and Instagram