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Easy as Water and Soap: Clean Hands Save Lives

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  • More than 80 countries will participate in Global Handwashing Day on October 15
  • Washing hands with soap is critical in reducing disease transmission, as well as highly cost effective

October 14, 2009—Washing hands with soap at critical times—before handling food and after using the toilet—significantly can reduce child mortality.

Last year, October 15 was designated as the Global Handwashing Day and a worldwide awareness-raising campaign was started by the Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap, an international initiative of which the World Bank is a founding member.  

Schools and communities in more than 80 countries will participate in activities this October 15 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,” says Nat Paynter, Global Coordinator of the Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap. “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.”

Diarrheal disease and acute respiratory infections kill more than 3.5 million children under the age of five each year, according to UNICEF’s State of the World Children Report. But washing hands with soap can reduce child mortality by 44 percent in the case of diarrheal disease, and 23 percent for acute respiratory infections.

"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,” says Dr. María Elena Figueroa, the Director of the Global Program on Water and Hygiene at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School for Public Health.

The World Bank carries roughly 26 projects that include hygiene promotion.

“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,” says Jaehyang So, Water and Sanitation Program Manager. 

“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.”

In 2008, the Global Handwashing Day helped raise handwashing awareness among citizens and policy-makers alike. It mobilized over 200 million people across six continents, including government officials, celebrities, community leaders, teachers, and children. 

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