A million Ethiopian children lather up with soap on Global Handwashing Day

© UNICEF video
Children at the Ginfle Primary Public School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, wash their hands with soap and water during their lunch break on Global Handwashing Day, 15 October.

By Roshni Karwal

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, 16 October 2008 – Addis Ababa’s Maskal Square came alive in the spirit of handwashing yesterday as 1 million Ethiopian children united to wash their hands with soap and water in celebration of the first-ever Global Handwashing Day.

“The message is that the simple action of washing hands with soap saves lives,” said UNICEF Ethiopia Officer-in-Charge Marc Rubin.

“The top four messages,” he added, “are that washing hands with water alone is not enough, handwashing with soap can prevent diseases that kill millions of children needlessly every year, critical moments for handwashing are after using the toilet and before handling food, and handwashing is the single most cost-effective intervention.”

The half-day Global Handwashing Day national event held at Maskal Square featured over 300 schoolchildren from five elementary schools. They marched and sang to promote handwashing with soap as an important hygienic practice that reduces the prevalence of diarrhoeal diseases and respiratory illnesses, which together kill 3.5 million children worldwide each year.

Public-private partnership
With the goal of preventing such deaths, an estimated 120 million children observed Global Handwashing Day in 70 countries across five continents.

The celebration in Ethiopia was organized by UNICEF and the national WASH (for ‘water, sanitation and hygiene’) movement, along with private-sector partners. Across the country, schoolchildren washed their hands with soap and water at noon just before their lunch break. Soap was distributed to participating schools through regional education boards.

Global Handwashing Day also aims to raise the profile of the International Year of Sanitation, which is being observed worldwide throughout 2008. Globally, an estimated 2.6 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation. In Ethiopia, only 11 per cent of the population has access to improved sanitation.



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15 October 2008: UNICEF correspondent Roshni Karwal reports on how Ethiopia celebrated the first-ever Global Handwashing Day.
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