Saturday October 15th is Global Handwashing Day, a day to promote and recognize the importance of handwashing with soap as an affordable and effective way to maintain health and wellbeing.
Can you name the four critical times for handwashing? And honestly, do you do this all the time?
Nine-year-old Thongkhoun loves to wash his hands, and he learnt to do this at school. As a member of his school’s hygiene club in northern Laos, he is serious about hygiene.
Chances are you don’t wash your hands every time you prepare dinner for the family. Hopefully you do wash your hands with soap after visiting the toilet or changing your child’s nappy. But perhaps not every time before you eat?
Of course, in Australia, forgetting to wash your hands with soap before a meal doesn’t always end up in a quick dash to the toilet or anything worse.
However, for millions of people living in less developed settings, where traditions, cultures and means, sees people often working and living in unhygienic environments, and eating communally, with their hands, the ramifications of not handwashing can be dire. It is estimated that 230,000 deaths globally could be prevented each year by handwashing with soap alone. Hard to believe isn’t it?
Handwashing with soap can reduce the diarrheal incidence by almost half and reduce rates of pneumonia, by as much as 30%, both of which make up significant portions of disease burden for children under 5. Further, around 50% of malnutrition is a result of poor sanitation and hygiene, and in 2014, affected 159 million children who were classified as stunted.
The World Health Organisation has prioritized handwashing as the most cost-effective of all major disease control interventions in developing countries and UNICEF states that “a US$3.35 investment in handwashing brings the same health benefits as a US$11 investment in latrine construction, a US$200 investment in household water supply and an investment of thousands of dollars in immunization.”
Despite all of this, reliable studies have shown that only 19% of people worldwide wash hands with soap.
This is why Plan International, through its water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) projects, promotes handwashing with soap in schools and households in 54 countries. We work closely with girls, boys, women and men to embed handwashing as a habit. We also engage governments and institutions to improve policy, and its implementation, to ensure handwashing facilities are available in schools and institutional settings and that school curriculums include accurate and relevant information on handwashing with soap.
To celebrate Global Handwashing Day in 2016, Plan International will be coordinating awareness raising events in schools and communities, getting our hands dirty to make handwashing a habit.
 UNICEF defines stunting as below minus two standard deviations from median height for age of reference population.