Handwashing: an easy and effective way to prevent disease among children

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a stark reminder that one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of the virus is hand hygiene, especially handwashing with soap.

UNICEF Uzbekistan
Ребенок моет руки с мылом.
16 October 2020

October 15 is Global Handwashing Day. It is dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding about the importance of handwashing with soap as an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives. The campaign aims to motivate and mobilize people around the world to improve their handwashing habits.

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a stark reminder that one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of the virus is hand hygiene, especially handwashing with soap.

“Inadequate handwashing facilities at home, and in health and education settings can put an individual at a higher risk of diseases that can impact their health, and subsequently, education and economic outcomes,” said Munir Mammadzade, UNICEF Representative in Uzbekistan. “Handwashing can help protect children from the risk of various diseases and stop transmission of COVID-19 to other people. Developing handwashing habits as early as possible is a healthy practice that we must encourage”.

Children are also potential agents of sustainable change. The role of children as both participants and agents of change can be enhanced by transformative education and training. One such training is health and hygiene behaviour.

UNICEF’s rapid assessment of handwashing behaviour among young children (three to six years) through a survey of parents during the pandemic shows that the majority of parents have trained their young children to wash their hands properly for 20 seconds using soap. 81 per cent do this before and after eating meals, 75 per cent after using the toilet, 78 per cent after outdoor games and 79 per cent before entering the home after outdoor activities.

Worryingly, though, one in ten children has yet to be trained to properly wash their hands. Children below six years of age, many of whom attend pre-schools, are at an increased risk of infectious diseases, but hand hygiene is an effective preventive measure. Parents should ensure that, just like boys, all young girls are trained in handwashing habits. UNICEF reiterates that it is important to step up efforts to train both children and adults in the correct way to wash their hands.  

Moreover, every child’s right to a quality education includes the right to an enabling school environment which includes access to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services. Children spend a significant portion of their day at school where WASH services can impact students’ learning, health, and dignity, particularly girls’.

The inclusion of school WASH services in the Sustainable Development Goals represents increasing recognition of their importance as key components of a safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environment. They form part of universal WASH access, which emphasizes the need for WASH outside of the home.

However, in Uzbekistan, there are, on average, only four handwashing outlets per school.  Given the average number of students, this is not enough: during the first shift of the day, on average, there is only one handwashing facility for every 168 students, while during the second shift, a handwashing facility serves an average of 84 students. This challenge is more severe in populous urban schools than in rural or remote schools.

Девочка моет руки с мылом

In terms of water and sanitation conditions, only 11 per cent of schools have facilities that meet the criteria set by the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene. Around 32 per cent of schools have inadequate or limited services. Coverage by basic hygiene services was lower in remote schools than urban schools.

UNICEF works around the world to ensure that children and families have access to appropriate handwashing facilities. Based on the recent data analysis, UNICEF suggests that the Government of Uzbekistan can further improve WASH facilities in the country’s schools by:

  • Making investments to ensure adequate school WASH facilities (an adequate number of handwashing facilities with soap in strategic areas such as toilets, canteens, clinics, play areas; an adequate number of drinking water facilities; single-sex specific toilets with adequate water etc.);
  • Looking to international best practices to provide innovative ways of providing cost-effective handwashing, sanitation and other hygiene services ; and
  • Proactively promoting health and hygiene practices in schools, particularly handwashing habits, in the context of COVID-19 requirements.

These initiatives aim to ensure that affordable products and services are available and sustainable, particularly in vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.