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“Clean hands save lives” — Global Handwashing Day 2011 is celebrated by millions of people worldwide

2011-10-14

TORONTO, 14 October 2011 – UNICEF joins hundreds of millions of people across the globe tomorrow in celebrating the 4th annual Global Handwashing Day, emphasizing the importance of handwashing with soap as an effective, simple, and affordable way to prevent disease.

A number of exciting events are taking place for the 2011 celebration of Global Handwashing Day on 15 October. Teachers, parents, celebrities and government officials are motivating millions to lather up to prevent life-threatening diseases such as diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections.

In Afghanistan, 1.7 million children from 1,700 schools will wash hands; in Eritrea, 326,809 children in 1,272 schools will do the same. In Peru, the government has declared a national handwashing week as of 10 October, and events will involve 3.5 million students in 20,000 schools. Eight million children in Rajasthan, India, and over 1 million children in Pakistan will also participate in handwashing events.  These and other activities promise to surpass celebrations in 2010, which saw 200 million people and 700,000 schools in over 70 countries honouring the day.

These events are aimed at spreading a life-saving message: clean hands save lives. UNICEF estimates that diarrhoea kills 1.1 million children every year, and pneumonia-related illnesses take another 1.2 million child lives. Handwashing with soap prevents disease in a more straightforward and cost-effective way than any single vaccine.

The simple act of washing hands with soap at critical moments – such as after using the toilet or before handling food – is an easy and affordable intervention that can reduce the incidence of diarrhoea among children under five by almost 50 per cent, and cut respiratory infections by as much as 25 per cent. 

“Soap is not in short supply, even in developing countries,” said Therese Dooley, UNICEF’s Senior Adviser for Hygiene and Sanitation. “The vast majority of poor households have soap in the home. The problem is that soap is used for laundry or bathing, but rarely for handwashing.” Dooley added that UNICEF would like to ensure handwashing with soap becomes a social norm in all countries.

Governments around the world have now adopted Global Handwashing Day as a national celebration, wanting the event to be more than just a day, and to ensure that handwashing with soap is promoted throughout the year. In 2010, for example, all schools –18 million children – across Bangladesh, participated in mass handwashing demonstrations on October 15.  The events were used as a platform to launch the Bangladesh government’s National Hygiene Campaign which aims to change the way the country uses soap, and in particular to promote its use in handwashing. 

“We are happy that this year other countries are following Bangladesh’s example,” Dooley says. “While we adults are always trying to discourage bad habits in children, the good habit of handwashing with soap is one we want every child to develop.”

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About Global Handwashing Day:
Global Handwashing Day is celebrated on October 15. The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap initiated Global Handwashing Day in 2008, and it is endorsed by governments, international institutions, civil society organisations, NGOs, private companies and individuals around the globe. Visit www.globalhandwashingday.org

About UNICEF Canada
UNICEF is the world's leading child-focused humanitarian and development agency. Through innovative programs and advocacy work, we save children's lives and secure their rights in virtually every country. Our global reach, unparalleled influence on policymakers, and diverse partnerships make us an instrumental force in shaping a world in which no child dies of a preventable cause. UNICEF is entirely supported by voluntary donations and helps all children, regardless of race, religion or politics. For more information about UNICEF, please visit www.unicef.ca.

For further information:

Stefanie Carmichael, Communications Specialist, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8866; Cell: (647) 500-4230, scarmichael@unicef.ca.
Tiffany Baggetta, Director, Communications and Brand, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8892; Cell: (647) 308-4806, tbaggetta@unicef.ca.