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Global Handwashing Day - 15 Oct. 2008

Thousands of Children across West and Central Africa Unite to Encourage Handwashing with Soap on the First-Ever Global Handwashing Day (15 October 08)

DAKAR, 13 October 2008 - From Mauritania to Chad, Niger to Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire to Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo*, playgrounds and classrooms, local communities and city centers will be buzzing on Global Handwashing Day (15 October 2008) with high profile awareness-raising and educational activity to accelerate handwashing behavior change on a scale never seen before.

Diarrhea kills almost 2 million children every year worldwide, and about 500,000 of these deaths occur in West and Central Africa, making it the third leading killer of children in the region. A simple hygiene habit – washing hands with soap – could halve this figure.

Diarrhea is both preventable and treatable, yet families in developing countries continue to pay the price of this disease in lost lives, missed school days, reduced resistance to infections, impaired growth, malnutrition and poverty.

The inaugural Global Handwashing Day puts this often overlooked hygiene challenge at the forefront of the international agenda while keeping children at the heart of each country’s national and local initiatives.

When coupled with educational initiatives, handwashing with soap is one of the world’s most cost-effective preventive health interventions and has been proven to reduce the risk of not only diarrhea, but also some of its more severe manifestations, such as cholera and dysentery, by 48-59 percent.  Regular handwashing with soap has also recently been shown to reduce pneumonia infections by 25%.

On Global Handwashing Day, children, school teachers and parents will join celebrities, government officials, NGO ambassadors and members of the private sector to call for proper hygiene practices across the world and raise awareness that handwashing with soap is a powerful public health intervention.

In Niger, UNICEF, the Government and UNILEVER team up to launch an educational campaign on handwashing with soap to target more than 89,000 school children over the course of the school year.

In Côte d’Ivoire, UNICEF, the Government and the telecom sector corporate foundation MTN join forces to organize events in 100 schools in the cities of Abidjan, Bouake and Man and bring together 30,000 children to demonstrate the good handwashing practice.

Stepping up investment in handwashing will make a significant contribution to meeting the Millennium Development Goal of reducing deaths among children the age of five by two-thirds by 2015 (MDG 4). In West and Central Africa, two children out of ten die before they reach their fifth birthday.

“Making handwashing with soap an entrenched habit for children and caregivers could save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention” said Esther Guluma, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “The power of public-private partnerships can deliver outstanding results for children”.

*Activities are planned in Côte d’Ivoire, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Chad.

About the Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing
The coalition behind the Global Handwashing Day is an alliance of public and private partners who together form the Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing (, an international initiative to promote handwashing with soap to reduce diarrhea in developing countries and implement large-scale handwashing interventions by combining the expertise and resources of the soap industry with the facilities and resources of governments.

About Global Handwashing Day
Global Handwashing Day spotlights this important issue in the year that the UN General Assembly has designated the International Year of Sanitation (IYS) to promote improved hygiene practices and draw attention to the world’s enormous sanitation challenge. Handwashing plays an important part in the efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals relating to health improvements, education and the reduction of poverty and child mortality, as well as access to and effective use of water supply and sanitation services agreed to by UN member countries at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in September 2002.

For more information, please visit or contact:
Brigitte Helali, Communication Specialist
UNICEF Regional Office for West and Central Africa
Tel: +221 77 502 7389,



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