Diarrhea and respiratory infections are responsible for the majority of all child deaths, taking the lives of millions of children in developing countries every year. Fortunately, one of the most cost-effective solutions is virtually at our fingertips: washing our hands with soap. This simple act can reduce the incidence of diarrhea and respiratory infections among children under 5 by almost 50 percent and 25 percent, respectively.
To promote this life-saving practice around the world, the Global Public–Private Partnership for Handwashing — which includes FHI 360, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and 10 other public and private organizations — launched Global Handwashing Day. The event has grown from a one-day celebration in a few cities to a worldwide movement that has mobilized significant investment in and political support for handwashing with soap.
As we observe Global Handwashing Day today, we have much to celebrate. In 2011, 600,000 fewer children under 5 died than in 2008, the first year Global Handwashing Day was launched. Today also marks the event’s fifth birthday, and we have adopted the theme “Help More Children Reach Their Fifth Birthday.” This year’s celebration features an innovative social media-based game called World Wash Up, in which players clean up germs by tweeting or posting to Facebook facts about handwashing and sanitation. The game, developed by FHI 360, is available at www.globalhandwashing.org/ghw.
Handwashing with soap also is a key focus of FHI 360’s WASHplus project, which is funded by USAID. Under WASHplus, we work with mothers, children under 5, schools, schoolchildren, people living with HIV and the urban poor in Kenya, Madagascar and Zambia to improve their health through better water and sanitation. In Zambia, for instance, we help schools access better hygiene facilities such as handwashing stations, and we show students and staff how practices such as washing hands with soap at key times — before eating or after using a latrine, for example — can make them healthier. And in Kenya, we work to reduce the impact of diarrhea on HIV-affected patients and their families by supporting training on better water, sanitation and hygiene practices, including handwashing with soap.
Through initiatives like WASHplus and Global Handwashing Day, we can save more lives around the world. Celebrate Global Handwashing Day’s fifth birthday and help more children see their fifth birthday by spreading the word about handwashing with soap.