Handwashing Day

October 15th is Global Handwashing Day! Why is handwashing so important?

Washing hands with water alone is not enough

Although people wash their hands with water, very few wash their hands with soap at critical moments (for example, after using the toilet, while cleaning a child, and before handling food). But washing hands with water alone is significantly less effective than washing hands with soap in terms of removing germs.

Lack of soap is not a significant barrier to handwashing at home. The vast majority of even poor households have soap in their homes.

Handwashing with soap reduces disease

Washing hands with soap after using the toilet or cleaning a child and before handling food can reduce rates of diarrheal disease, including some of its more severe manifestations, such as cholera and dysentery, by 48-59% and rates of respiratory infection by about one-quarter.

Handwashing with soap is the single-most cost-effective health intervention

Handwashing with soap is a life-saving intervention within the technological and financial reach of all countries and communities. Research shows that a $3.35 investment in handwashing brings the same health benefits as an $11.00 investment in latrine construction, a $200.00 investment in household water supply and an investment of thousands of dollars in immunization.

Turning handwashing with soap into an ingrained habit

Research shows that handwashing behavior can be changed on a large scale through the use of social marketing approaches that encourage people to adopt new handwashing behaviors. The primary target groups of hygiene behavior change programs are mothers and other caregivers of children under the age of five. Another target group for handwashing programs is school-age children. School programs can help establish lifelong healthy habits. Making toilets and handwashing stations available in schools is essential to ensure children's access to school, especially for girls, and critical to students’ health and to reducing absenteeism. However, schools in the region often have neither soap nor appropriate handwashing facilities. For instance, in the DRC, less than 25% of schools have adequate sanitation. This is why, building child-friendly schools includes building water and sanitation facilities.

U-Report and Handwashing

U-Report was used in Burundi in the summer of 2015 to prevent an outbreak of cholera by assessing he knowledge levels of handwashing and giving out information on handwashing and explaining the barriers to handwashing.

U-Report found that knowledge of Cholera prevention was not lacking but access to soap was. 47% of U-Reporters do not have access to soap in Burundi and the primary reason is due to cost.

Outcome: UNICEF WASH, UNICEF health sections and the Red Cross all received results to help plan their Cholera prevention initiatives. The Ministry of Health used the data to plan communications on Hand Washing Day and ask new polls to address this issue. The Soap question series led to, in October, the first ever community debates on Global Hand Washing Day (U-Report prepared a community debate guide for community mobilisers using U-Report poll question and results asked in the run up to 15 October) and the first time the Ministry of Health and other government figures heard a speech by a community member (a U-Reporter) to open the ceremony, who was voicing community concerns and statistics about Hand Washing (results of U-Report polls and challenges arising from community debates) and calling on authorities to fulfill their commitments by improving access to Hand Washing.

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