Easy as Water and Soap: Clean Hands Save Lives

  • More than 80 countries will participate in Global Handwashing Day on October 15.

  • Washing hands with soap is a critical action against disease transmission – and is highly cost effective.

Each year, diarrheal disease and acute respiratory infections kill over 3.5 million children under the age of five, according to UNICEF’s State of the World Children Report.

But a simple, low-cost solution exists to bring about a dramatic decline in these figures. Washing hands with soap at critical times – before handling food and after using the toilet – can reduce child mortality by 44 percent in the case of diarrhea l disease , and 23 percent for acute respiratory infections.

Rinsing hands with water alone, a common practice around the world, is significantly less effective than using soap. "The health benefits of handwashing with soap are huge, hence the importance of working at all levels of society to make handwashing with soap a habit in homes, schools, hospitals and communities globally”, said the Director of the Global Program on Water and Hygiene at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School for Public Health, Dr. María Elena Figueroa.

In alignment with this view, the World Bank - a founding member of the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap - carries roughly 26 projects that include hygiene promotion.


Colombia's Minister of Environment, Housing and Territorial Development, Hon. Juan Lozano, celebrates Global Handwashing Day with children in the province of Soacha (Department of Cundinamarca)




Washing hands with soap is not only one of the most powerful hygiene practices to prevent the spread of disease, but also an extremely cost-effective intervention within the technological and financial reach of all countries, ” said Water and Sanitation Program Manager, Jaehyang So. “Add to this the fact that we can reach an exponentially larger number of people by scaling up handwashing campaigns that use social marketing principles, and you have a strong incentive for all stakeholders to participate.”

October 15 Is Global Handwashing Day

Global Handwashing Day was created by partner organizations of the Public Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap . In 2008 the first Global Handwashing Day mobilized over 200 million people across six continents , including government officials, celebrities, community leaders, teachers, and children. More than 80 countries will be joining hands on October 15 to celebrate this second annual event. 

The 2008 event helped raise awareness of the issue among citizens and policy-makers alike. “Handwashing is protecting children's lives, handwashing is avoiding that they die of diarrhea, gastroenteritis and respiratory infections," declared Hon. Juan Lozano, Colombia's Minister of Environment, Housing and Territorial Development.

This year, schools and communities worldwide will participate in activities to remind children about the importance of washing hands with soap as a critical habit to keep disease away. “On October 15 the world comes together to recognize the health impact of proper handwashing behaviors,” said the Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap Global Coordinator, Nat Paynter. “This is especially relevant given the H1N1 flu outbreak over the last year.  We look forward to continue promoting handwashing with soap, not only during this annual celebration, but every day of the year. ”

Art for Health’s Sake

Creative and educational activities will be at the very center of the Global Handwashing Day celebrations. In Peru, aerostatic balloons representing soap bubbles will be released in plazas across the country, while in Tanzania schoolchildren from 21 different regions will participate in a photo competition. Meanwhile, several countries in Central America and Asia will attempt to break the Guinness Record of children washing hands at the same time, currently held by Bangladesh.

In the fight against disease, no effort seems to be in vain. As Nitumoni, a third grader student in India said : “There may be millions of germs on our hands but if millions of children join hands - to wash hands - we can get rid of them forever. ”