FACT SHEET: On Global Handwashing Day

UNICEF warns that 3 in 10 people do not have basic handwashing facilities at home to fight off infectious diseases.

13 October 2021
The students have been receiving and practicing hygiene promotion for three months. It can be difficult, the Principal explains, to find space in a tight school budget to spend on hygiene materials or infrastructure – even purchasing soap for the 67 students in this rural area can be a struggle
UNICEF/UNI313299/Matas
"I wash my hands so germs don't get on them," says Dareen, 6 years. "Germs can make people sick or even kill them. "First you use plenty of soap, then scrub your hands thoroughly and wash with water. "You have to wash your hands before you eat and after you go to the toilet. You have to wash them every day to stay health. "My mother and father taught me how to wash my hands. "My favourite subjects are English, Arabic and everything else! "It's not a 'W' on my face, it's a 'M'. It's our letter of the day today." Children in Al Khader mixed primary school take part in a handwashing demonstration. The students have been receiving and practicing hygiene promotion for three months. It can be difficult, the Principal explains, to find space in a tight school budget to spend on hygiene materials or infrastructure – even purchasing soap for the 67 students in this rural area can be a struggle.

NEW YORK, 15 October 2021 – Although handwashing with soap is critical in the fight against infectious diseases, including COVID-19, globally, around 3 in 10 people – or 2.3 billion – do not have handwashing facilities with water and soap available at home. The situation is worst in the least developed countries, with over 6 in 10 people without access to basic hand hygiene, UNICEF warned on Global Handwashing Day.

“Global response efforts to the pandemic have created an unprecedented time for hand hygiene. Yet progress remains far too slow for the most vulnerable, underserved communities,” said UNICEF WASH Director Kelly Ann Naylor. “Hand hygiene cannot be viewed as a temporary provision to manage COVID-19. Further long-term investment in water, sanitation and hygiene can help prevent the next health crisis from coming. It also means fewer people falling ill with respiratory infections, fewer children dying from diarrheal diseases, and more pregnant mothers and newborns protected from preventable conditions like sepsis.”

The latest data show that some progress has been achieved since 2015. For example, the global population with access to basic hand hygiene at home has increased from 5 billion to 5.5 billion, or from 67 per cent to 71 per cent. However, if current trends persist, 1.9 billion people will still not have access to basic hand hygiene by the end of the decade.

According to the latest estimates:

  • Globally, 3 in 10 people – or 2.3 billion – do not have access to basic handwashing facilities with water and soap at home, including 670 million people without any facility at all. In the least developed countries, more than 6 in 10 people lack basic hand hygiene facilities at home.
  • 2 in 5 schools worldwide do not have basic hygiene services with water and soap, affecting 818 million students, of which 462 million attend schools with no facility at all. In the least developed countries, 7 out of 10 schools have no place for children to wash their hands.
  • 1 in 3 healthcare facilities worldwide does not have hand hygiene facilities at points of care where the patient, healthcare worker, and treatment involve contact with the patient.
  • The cost to provide hand hygiene in all homes in 46 of the world’s least-developed countries by 2030 is an estimated US$11 billion*. The cost to governments for hygiene promotion are estimated to be equal to 25 cents per capita per year.

Deep inequalities exist across and within countries regarding access and progress, with the most vulnerable children and families suffering the most. Moreover, in fragile, conflict-affected, and refugee settings, progress is especially slow:

  • In fragile contexts, 1 in 5 people do not have any hand hygiene facility at home.
  • In 8 out of 20 countries for which UNHCR has data, more than 30 per cent of refugee households do not have access to soap.
  • Globally, current progress rates must quadruple to reach universal hygiene by 2030. In the least developed countries, the rate of progress would need to increase ten-fold, and in fragile contexts, it would need to accelerate by a factor of 23.

UNICEF urges governments to commit to providing hand hygiene, not as a temporary response to the pandemic, but as an investment in public health and economic resilience. The latest joint UNICEF and WHO report identifies five accelerators that can enable governments to rapidly scale up access to hand hygiene, including good governance, smart public finance, capacity building, consistent data, and innovation.

 

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Notes to Editors:

* This estimate assumes that households would bear the cost of installing handwashing facilities and the cost associated with purchasing water and soap. Governments would bear the cost of hygiene promotion, both initial and ‘top-up’.

Least Developed Countries: Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Kiribati, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Yemen, Zambia

Media contacts

Juliette Touma
Regional Chief of Advocacy and Communications
UNICEF Middle East and North Africa Regional Office
Tel: 00962798674628
Sara Alhattab
UNICEF New York
Tel: +1 917 957-6536

Additional resources

Mahmoud teaches his ten-year-old son to wash hands thoroughly in the Al-Makha district, Yemen.
in 9 June 2020, Mahmoud teaches his ten-year-old son to wash hands thoroughly in the Al-Makha district, Yemen. Mahmoud says “Im always careful to keep my children safe and clean. I don’t want then to get sick with coronavirus.” UNICEF has been scaling up preparedness and response programmes across Yemen, including providing clean water to communities in need, and distributing basic hygiene kits – containing soap, towels, buckets and jerry cans – to empower and enable internally displaced families across the country to protect themselves. Across Yemen, UNICEF and partners have also reached more than half a million people with information on physical distancing through house-to-house visits, and is aiming to reach thousands of health workers with sensitization sessions on COVID-19.

About UNICEF

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 for children, visit www.unicef.org/mena

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