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Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Global Handwashing Day 2009: Spread the word, not the germs

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-1244/Pirozzi
Children use soap attached to a string to wash their hands before lunch at Ambohitsimelo Public Primary School in Madagascar.

By Saira Saeed Khan

NEW YORK, USA, 9 October 2009 – Next Thursday, 15 October, marks the second annual Global Handwashing Day, which millions of children and adults will celebrate with special activities in over 80 countries.

VIDEO: Watch now

Handwashing with soap and water is one of the most affordable and effective interventions to prevent needless deaths of children under the age of five. It helps reduces diarrhoea-related deaths by more than 40 per cent and cases of acute respiratory disease by about 25 per cent.

The promotion of handwashing with soap is also a key strategy for controlling the spread of the H1N1 virus – another major focus of the planned events in many countries on 15 October.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-1117/Nesbitt
Children queue to wash their hands at Transgambienne II School in Senegal, where UNICEF programmes aim to improve access to safe water and sanitation in primary schools and surrounding communities.

‘Clean hands save lives’

Meanwhile, the popular Australian children’s entertainers, The Wiggles, have once again partnered with UNICEF to raise awareness about the importance of handwashing with soap.

“Teaching children to wash their hands with soap and water from an early age helps instil this behaviour for life,” says Murray the Red Wiggle. “Handwashing with soap positively impacts children, families, communities and nations by reducing disease and increasing productivity."

And children themselves play a central role in spreading the word instead of the germs. Under the slogan 'Clean hands save lives,' Global Handwashing Day 2009 will honour schoolchildren as effective communicators and agents of change, who learn good hygiene practices at school and take them back into their homes and communities.

For children, this direct involvement in hygiene promotion instils a sense of empowerment. Ultimately, it helps make hygienic behaviours, such as handwashing with soap, stick for a lifetime.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2003-0501/Noorani
in Baghdad, Iraq, a woman helps her son wash his hands during a UNICEF-supported demonstration of good health and hygiene practices that help prevent diarrhoea.

Events around the world

Last year, over 80 countries participated in handwashing day activities, with about 200 million children washing their hands with soap and water at public events. Activities ranged from school assemblies and contests to government outreach programmes, SMS text messaging campaigns, photo exhibits and celebrity appearances.

This year, Global Handwashing Day is being celebrated with renewed enthusiasm. Japan, Guatemala and Mali are preparing educational programmes, demonstrations and performances. Nepal is promoting a handwashing song to be played during its annual Teej Festival. Côte d'Ivoire is training restaurant workers on handwashing techniques and prevention of H1N1. And the list goes on.

The annual observance was launched in 2008 as an initiative of the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap. It is endorsed by a wide array of governments, international institutions, civil society organizations, non-governmental organizations, private companies and individuals worldwide.

In a related development, UNICEF and the World Health Organization will release a new report on 14 October focusing on the prevention and treatment of diarrhoeal diseases as a central factor in improving child survival.




Watch the public service announcement starring the popular Australian children’s entertainers, The Wiggles, promoting Global Handwashing Day 2009.
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