Washing hands with soap and water reduces cases of diarrhoea by almost 50% – yet on average, around the world only 19% of people wash hands with soap after defecation.
This Global Handwashing Day, WaterAid urges governments worldwide to prioritise handwashing promotion, alongside water and sanitation, to save lives.
On 15 October every year, the important role that handwashing with soap plays in reducing the spread of diseases and preventing poor nutritional and health outcomes is highlighted across the world.
The theme of this year’s commemoration ‘Clean hands – a recipe for health’ focuses on the link between handwashing, food and nutrition, creating awareness on the need for handwashing with soap at critical times such as after using the toilet, before cooking, eating, or feeding others.
The simple act of washing hands with soap can save lives, helping to keep food safe, prevent diseases and help children to be able to grow strong and healthy.
It contributes to child survival, good nutrition, the ability to successfully attend school, and the economic benefits of greater productivity. Yet globally only one in five people washes their hands after going to the toilet, significantly increasing the risk of contamination and diarrhoeal sickness.
Children with diarrhoea not only eat less but are less able to absorb nutrients from food and research has shown that wasting and severe acute malnutrition can be linked to poor hygiene practices.
Food borne illnesses are a major cause of death in developing countries like Liberia and others, leading to illnesses which are harmful especially for children, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems.
Handwashing with soap is estimated to reduce diarrhoeal diseases by between 27% and 48%. Combined with the use of clean drinking water, it could reduce the loss of nutrients and stunting in children under five by up to 15%.
It is an important hygienic practice that keeps food safe for consumption and protects from food related diseases.
Critical food-related times for handwashing with soap include: before cooking or preparing food, before eating, and before feeding someone, including before breastfeeding.
It is important caregivers in schools, hospitals or at home wash their hands at all critical times, modelling and enforcing good handwashing behavior for children.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, only 15% of the population have access to a basic handwashing facility with soap and clean water at home.
It is clear that governments need to make access to hygiene a top priority and plan, finance and maintain systems accordingly.
Governments should develop cross-ministerial coordination mechanisms between the WASH and nutrition sector championed at the highest level to support sharing of information and joint planning and implementation of policies.
Policymakers should prioritise nutrition-sensitive WASH interventions and include specific objectives to improve WASH within nutrition plans and policies. Clear entry points to integrate WASH and nutrition include behaviour change promotion and improvement of provision of WASH in healthcare facilities and schools.
WaterAid Liberia Country Director, Patrick Cheah said:
“Together, handwashing with soap and good food hygiene bring health and economic benefits. Handwashing with soap is essential for health workers, improving quality of care and reducing risk of cross-infection. It also makes children healthier, allowing them to go to school and learn, and helps adults remain healthy to go to work and earn a living or care for their families
“This Global Handwashing Day, WaterAid Liberia is advocating for improved investment in improving handwashing practice and access to basic handwashing facilities.”
WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organisation works in 34 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 25.8 million people with clean water and 25.1 million people with decent toilets.