Proper handwashing may save the lives of 800 children a day worldwide – UNICEF

14 October 2016

On the eve of Global Handwashing Day, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has reported that more than 300,000 children under the age of five died last year due to diarrhoeal infections linked to a lack of safe drinking water and sanitation – a rate of 800 per day that could have been prevented by proper handwashing.

In a news release, Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF’s global head of water, sanitation and hygiene said: “Every year, 1.4 million children are dying from largely preventable diseases like pneumonia and diarrhoea,” numbers, he says, that “could be greatly reduced by working with children and families to adopt a very straightforward solution – handwashing.”

Handwashing with soap before meals and after toilet use has been shown to reduce diarrhoeal infections by 40 per cent, said UNICEF.

Moreover, handwashing not only reduces the rate of infection, but also keeps children in school, as are not staying home due to illness. Mr. Wijesekera calls it “a frontline preventive measure.”

Since the Hurricane Matthew made landfall in Haiti on 4 October, a poor water and sanitation infrastructure have given rise to acute diarrhoea and suspected cholera cases.

The UNICEF Representative in Haiti, Marc Vincent referred to it as “everyone’s worst nightmare. Less than two weeks after the hurricane, cholera may be spreading in areas where it previously barely existed and diarrhoea is preying on already vulnerable children. Immediate action is essential – children’s health is at risk.”

UNICEF offers the following facts about the importance of handwashing:

  • 1 gram of faeces contains 100 billion bacteria;
  • Globally, approximately one in five people wash their hands after using the toilet;
  • Each year, 1.7 million children die before the age of 5 because of diarrhoea and pneumonia;
  • Children who wash their hands with soap after going to the toilet and before eating reduce their risk of contracting diarrhoea by more than 40 percent, and;
  • Acute respiratory infections like pneumonia are the leading cause of death in children under the age of 5.


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