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Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Hygiene Promotion

© UNICEF/HQ07-0404/Giacomo Pirozzi
A hand-washing station at a UNICEF-supported school in Lobaye Province, Central African Republic.

Improving access to safe water and sanitation facilities leads to healthier families and communities. However, when people are also motivated to practice good hygiene – especially hand-washing with soap – health benefits are significantly increased. Because the evidence on the importance of hand-washing with soap is clear, UNICEF has made it a programme priority.

UNICEF programmes help to promote hand-washing and hygiene behavioural change by: 

- advocating for increased funding for hygiene activities and the inclusion of hygiene in sectoral policies and strategies;

- supporting national and sub-national hand-washing campaigns;

-recruiting high-profile decision makers and celebrities as hand-washing advocates;

- including strong hygiene components within its own WASH programmes in the field

- ensuring that hand-washing and hygiene are components of emergency response programmes;

- developing strategies and tools to encourage hand-washing promotion by community health and outreach workers;

- encouraging hygiene promotion in schools and the empowerment of children as agents of change within their families and communities.

© UNICEF/HQ07-0583/Giacomo Pirozzi
Hand-washing mural at a hospital in Monrovia, Liberia.

Education and communication are important components of a hygiene promotion programme. All people have a right to know about the relationship between water, sanitation, hygiene and the health of themselves and their families. However, education alone does not necessarily result in improved practices. Knowing about the causes of disease may help, but new hygiene practices may be too unfamiliar, too difficult, or take too much time, especially for poor people. Promoting behavioural change is a gradual process that involves working closely with communities, studying existing beliefs, defining motivation strategies, designing appropriate communication tools and finally encouraging practical steps towards positive practices. Communities should be fully engaged in the process at all stages using participatory processes, and special attention should be given to building on local knowledge and promoting existing positive traditional practices.

Behavioural change is necessary not only at the community level, but among decision makers as well. All stakeholders – from politicians and government officials to field workers and people themselves – must be encouraged to recognize the importance of hygiene.



Global Handwashing Day

Soap Stories and Toilet Tales  These 9 case studies cover a wide range of experiences from the field related to Global Handwashing Day, documenting successes and challenges in various settings. Find additional resources at the Global Handwashing Day site.

Sustainable Sanitation: The Five Year Drive to 2015 (5YD)

This website contains information on the 5YD including factsheets, media advisory and key contacts.

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