October 15: World Handwashing Day

A gesture as simple as washing your hands with soap and water can be key to the survival of millions of people, especially the little ones. Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of diarrhea and respiratory infections, diseases that can be easily and cheaply prevented with a little soap and water. This day wants to serve as a reminder of the importance of this practice.

World Handwashing Day is a call to raise public awareness that some soap and water can save many lives. This day is celebrated for the first time this October 15 in 70 countries of the five containers. It is the first time in history that a worldwide campaign asks millions of people to wash their hands with soap and water.

“The main message we want to convey is the importance of hand washing, but not just any quick rinse: it is important to wash your hands correctly with soap and water at key times of the day. These key moments are: before cooking or preparing food, before eating and after using the bathroom or cleaning a baby, “says Therese Dooley of the UNICEF Sanitation and Hygiene Program.

Handwashing with soap and water is one of the most effective and cheap ways to prevent diarrheal diseases and acute respiratory infections. These diseases cause the death of 3.5 million children every year and affect the health of millions more, both in developing and industrialized countries. Access to soap is not always easy in many places in the world. In countries like Ethiopia, many people use ashes or sand for personal hygiene, because they can’t get soap.

UNICEF supports several campaigns to promote proper hand washing, within its Water, Sanitation and hygiene programs worldwide. The United Nations General Assembly declared 2008 as the International Year of Sanitation. World Handwashing Day reinforces this movement in favor of an improvement in sanitation and hygiene practices, especially for children, who are agents of change.