Everyone can make a difference in the “Clean hands saves lives” campaign
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Everyone can make a difference in the “Clean hands saves lives” campaign

NEW DELHI, India, 15 October 2009 – Each year, diarrhoeal diseases and acute respiratory infections are responsible for the deaths of more than 3.5 million children under the age of five.

The second annual Global Handwashing Day, being celebrated today, shines a spotlight on the importance of handwashing with soap and water as one of the most effective and affordable health interventions.

Water alone is not enough. Washing hands with soap and water especially at the critical times -- after using the toilet and before handling food -- helps reduce the incidence of diarrhoeal disease by more than 40 per cent and respiratory infections by nearly 25 per cent.  Furthermore, washing hands with soap is also being recommended as a critical action to prevent the spread of influenza H1N1.

In India, diarrhoea is a major killer with about 1,000 children below 5 years dying every day due to diarrhoea alone. Handwashing with soap can reduce diarrhoeal deaths in children by 40 per cent and is one of the most inexpensive ways to prevent diarrhoeal disease. Proper handling and safe storage of water reduces incidences of diarrhea by nearly half.

Toilet use can reduce presence of diarrhoea causing agents but toilet usage in India is still very low.  In 2006, toilet usage in India was 28 per cent but this is showing an upward trend because of Government of India’s flagship program – Total Sanitation Campaign.  Nirmal Gram Purashkar has led to more than 18,020 gaon panchyats being declared open defecation free.

Also Read Facts And Figures on Sanitation

Yet, despite its life-saving potential, handwashing with soap is seldom practiced and not always easy to promote.

Although soap is available in most households around the world, observed rates of handwashing with soap at critical moments range from zero to 34 per cent.  For successful, and sustained behavioural change to occur, it is vital to incorporate community-based and community-sensitive approaches that understand what motivates people to change.

Unsafe water and inadequate sanitation are often major causes of lost work and missed school days, perpetuating the cycle of economic and social stagnation in many countries.  Investments in health, child survival, education, water supply, and sanitation are all jeopardized if there is a lack of emphasis on handwashing with soap.

Under the slogan of “Clean hands save lives,” the second annual Global Handwashing Day campaign aims to engage schoolchildren as effective agents for change. The introduction of water, sanitation and hygiene interventions in schools, including handwashing with soap, is an entry point for children to understand and then take these good hygiene practices back into their homes and communities. 

Improved sanitation and hygiene programmes combined with handwashing education directly impact the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 2: universal primary education and MDG 3: gender equality via higher enrolment, attendance and retention rates in schools for both girls and boys. Additionally, higher rates of handwashing with soap would significantly contribute towards meeting the MDG 4 of reducing deaths of children under the age of five by two-thirds by 2015.

Handwashing with soap represents a cornerstone of public health and can be considered an affordable, accessible “do-it-yourself” vaccine.

Approximately 200 million children lathered up for last year’s inaugural Global Handwashing Day in 86 countries across five continents. From Colombia to Bangladesh, from Kenya to the Philippines, from the United Kingdom to Ethiopia, schools and communities worldwide organized and participated in celebrations and handwashing campaigns. In India, Global Handwashing Day will be celebrated 27 Ocotober because of the Diwali school holidays.

This year millions more, including, children, teachers, parents, celebrities, and government officials in over 80 countries, plan to join the celebrations.

Global Handwashing Day is an initiative of the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap, and is endorsed by a wide array of governments, international institutions, civil society organizations, NGOs, private companies and individuals worldwide.

Note to Editors:

To view the Global Handwashing Day website please visit www.globalhandwashingday.org

Global Handwashing Day is an initiative of the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap (PPPHW), a coalition formed by the following organizations: Academy for Educational Development, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Colgate-Palmolive, International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Procter & Gamble, UNICEF, Unilever, USAID, The World Bank, The Water and Sanitation Program, and The Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council.

For further information, please contact:

Angela Walker, Communication Chief, UNICEF India.
Tel: +91-98-18106093; e-mail: awalker@unicef.org

Geetanjali Master, Communication Specialist, UNICEF India
Tel: +91-98-18105861; e-mail: gmaster@unicef.org

Sonia Sarkar, Communication Officer (Media), UNICEF India.
Tel: +91-98-9186-1445; e-mail:ssarkar@unicef.org

Saira Saeed Khan, UNICEF Media, New York
Tel + 212 326 7224, Email, sskhan@uncief.org


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