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UN-backed Handwashing Day: soap and water saves millions of lives

UN-backed Handwashing Day: soap and water saves millions of lives

A girl washes her hands at a row of taps in Egypt
More than 200 million schoolchildren, parents, teachers, celebrities and government officials worldwide today lathered up in the third annual United Nations-backed Global Handwashing Day, designed to show how simple soap and water can save millions of lives a year.

Diarrhoeal diseases and acute respiratory infections kill more than 3.5 million children under the age of five annually, but washing hands with soap and water, especially at critical times after using the toilet and before handling food, helps reduce these diseases by more than 40 per cent and 23 per cent respectively. Yet this simple behaviour is not practiced regularly.

In Afghanistan, more than 67,000 under-five children die every year from these diseases.

This year the Day’s theme, ‘More than just a day,’ aims to make this life-saving practice a regular habit long after the sun sets this evening. The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap, which includes the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), is rolling out new tools to help developing countries transform hand-washing to a positive habit.

Today the message was brought to playgrounds, classrooms, community centres, public spaces and the air waves, with activities ranging from a hand-washing parade in Sri Lanka to radio and television spots in Guinea to installing taps on water tanks in Fiji as part of a nationwide campaign to facilitate hand-washing.

The Partnership was established in 2001 to give families, schools, and communities in developing countries the power to prevent diarrhoea and respiratory infections by supporting the universal promotion and practice of proper hand-washing with soap at critical times.

It also includes the participation of the World Bank; Procter & Gamble; and the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health.