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Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, millions celebrate first Global Handwashing Day

© UNICEF Central African Republic/2007Pirozzi
A boy washes his hands with soap after using the latrine at Cotanof School in the south-western Lobaye Province of the Central African Republic.

By Saira Saeed Khan

NEW YORK, USA, 14 October 2008 – Tomorrow, millions of people around the world will wash their hands with soap at special events marking the inaugural Global Handwashing Day, 15 October.

The day’s theme is that washing hands with water is simply not enough. But handwashing with soap – especially before preparing food and after using the toilet – is among the most effective and inexpensive ways to prevent diahrroeal diseases and pneumonia, which together are responsible for the deaths of more than 3.5 million children under five every year.

Reducing child mortality

“Handwashing with soap and water is a very ordinary act with extraordinary results for children’s’ health, growth and development,” said UNICEF Senior Adviser for Sanitation and Hygiene Therese Dooley.

© UNICEF Afghanistan/2008/Sweeting
Girls in Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province wash their hands with soap at a water point near their school.

In fact, handwashing with soap can make a significant contribution towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing under-five child deaths by two-thirds by 2015.

The first-ever Global Handwashing Day will focus on children and schools in order to raise awareness and promote behaviour change. Government officials, religious leaders, teachers, celebrities and children themselves are all joining forces in an effort to motivate millions to lather up and fight preventable disease.

Worldwide highlights
With over 70 countries on five continents celebrating Global Handwashing Day, the variety of planned activities is immense. Some highlights follow:

  • In Australia, children’s musical entertainers The Wiggles will debut their new handwashing song at a press conference
  • In schools throughout India, millions of children will pledge to stop open defecation and promote handwashing with soap; the popular cricketer Sachin Tendulkar will also promote Global Handwashing Day by washing his hands with soap
  • In Colombia, about 7,000 children will gather in a football stadium to celebrate the day with several government leaders
  • In the Philippines, over 100 schoolchildren will meet in Makati Park, in the heart of the Manila, to advocate for handwashing with soap as an important habit for their peers to adopt
  • A handwashing-with-soap exhibition in the capital of Tajikistan, Dushanbe, will display schoolchildren’s drawings, essays and photos dedicated to handwashing with soap
  • The President of Madagascar will join the country’s 3.5 million schoolchildren in handwashing with soap at noon
  • In Somalia, children will wash their hands with soap in over 100 schools
  • In South Africa, about 900,000 people will receive text messages reminding them to take out the soap
  • The King of Cambodia will honour a high-level handwashing event, and schoolchildren in every classroom in the country will wash their hands with soap
  • Over 65,000 students in Malawi will participate in handwashing activities promoted by the animated character known as ‘SOPO’.




14 October 2008: UNICEF correspondent Roshni Karwal reports on the first-ever Global Handwashing Day, 15 October, and how washing hands with soap can save children’s lives.
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14 October 2008: Popular Australian children’s musical entertainers The Wiggles give a press conference to announce their support for Global Handwashing Day and sing the tune they created for the occasion.
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6 October 2008:
View the PSA featuring one of cricket’s all-time great batsmen, Sachin Tendulkar, encouraging Indian children to wash their hands.
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