Why choosing handwashing is more important than ever

Handwashing in Somaliland is Customary

Somalilandsun – With the current Ebola outbreak facing countries in West Africa, the key message of Global Handwashing Day—that handwashing with soap can save lives—is more timely than ever. On October 15, hundreds of millions of people around the world will mobilize to promote the simple fact that handwashing is a readily accessible, affordable ‘do-it-yourself’ vaccine that helps prevent infections ranging in severity from the common cold to diarrheal diseases to Ebola. Handwashing with soap is a way for everyone to take health into their own hands.

Handwashing can also make a significant contribution to meeting the Millennium Development Goal 4 of reducing deaths among children under the age of five by two-thirds by 2015. Every year, 1.7 million children do not live to celebrate their fifth birthday because of diarrhea and pneumonia. These diseases cause almost 5,000 childhood deaths every day, according to UNICEF, and the simple habit of handwashing can significantly reduce the risk of contracting these illnesses, by almost one-half in the case of diarrhea and by nearly one-quarter for acute respiratory infections.

The theme of this year’s Global Handwashing Day is ‘Choose Handwashing, Choose Health.’ “When you wash your hands with soap, particularly before handling food, and after using the toilet, you are choosing to look after your own health, your family’s health, and even your community’s health,” says Dr. Layla McCay, Director of the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing Secretariat. “No matter where you live in the world, handwashing helps prevent the spread of illnesses.” By keeping people well, it also reduces absences from school and work, contributing to a healthier, wealthier society.

Global Handwashing Day represents a mass mobilization in support of handwashing to both raise awareness about this important global health issue and to catalyze action. This year, a brand-new Global Handwashing Day advocate joins in the celebrations. Raya, a six-year-old girl Muppet from Sesame Workshop, lends her voice to the cause. “It’s wonderful that so many people are helping make the world cleaner for everyone, especially children. I make sure all my friends know to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water after using the toilet and before eating. Washing hands helps keep families healthy and happy!” In Nigeria, eminent artists Sunny Neji and 2face Idibia have recorded songs spreading the message that handwashing can stop the spread of disease. In India, the Madhya Pradesh government and the Madhya Pradesh Technical Assistance Support Team (MPTAST) are launching an attempt to have two million children wash their hands simultaneously, thus breaking the current Guinness World Record. These represent just a few of the events that will involve an estimated 200 million people globally.

The momentum generated extends far beyond October 15. In many countries, Global Handwashing Day has been the impetus for organizations, governments, and schools to emphasize handwashing and hygiene behavior change throughout the year. This trend is set to continue in 2014 as these organizations make renewed commitments to handwashing by observing Global Handwashing Day.
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About Global Handwashing Day
Global Handwashing Day was initiated by The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing ( on October 15th 2008, mobilizing 120 million children in 73 countries across five continents to wash their hands with soap. Today it is endorsed and commemorated by governments, international institutions, civil society organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private companies, and individuals around the globe. In 2013, Global Handwashing Day celebrations were held in 108 countries and over 200 million people participated in events.

About the Global Public Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing
The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing aims to give families, schools, and communities in developing countries the power to prevent diarrhea and respiratory infections by supporting the universal promotion and practice of proper handwashing with soap at critical times.

For more information, or to set up an interview with a hygiene expert, contact Hanna Woodburn, Deputy Secretariat Director for the Global Public-Private Partnership, at +1 202-884-8398 or