Did you know that an everyday item in your home has the potential to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of children each year? Soap, when used at critical times such as after using the bathroom or before preparing food, can reduce the risk of diarrheal disease by nearly half and cut the risk of upper respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, by nearly a quarter. While these illnesses may seem like a normal part of childhood, they cause 1.7 million child deaths each year.
Unlike many solutions to the world’s development challenges, handwashing with soap is simple. It does not require any special skills or equipment, and it is within the economic reach of communities everywhere. In fact, handwashing with soap is the most cost-effective intervention to prevent diarrheal disease. However, making handwashing with soap a habit remains a challenge around the world.
Today, the world celebrates Global Handwashing Day, which is an opportunity to promote and advocate for handwashing with soap. As the Secretariat Coordinator of the Global Public–Private Partnership for Handwashing, FHI 360 plays a unique role in moving this agenda forward by linking clinical knowledge about behavior change and hygiene promotion to practitioners in the field. Increasing knowledge sharing and collaboration is a necessity if we hope to eradicate preventable childhood deaths.
If handwashing is to become engrained in communities where its lifesaving potential is most salient, policy makers and governments must also play a substantial role. For example, it is incumbent upon governments to ensure that the soap, water and other tools necessary for handwashing are available outside of the home in high-traffic germ hot spots, such as schools and health care centers. For this to become a reality, there must be global benchmarks for measuring the availability of the tools for handwashing, such as handwashing stations stocked with soap. The Millennium Development Goals got us started in the right direction with indicators on water and sanitation. As the international community considers what targets to address after 2015, now is the time to include hygiene.
All people have the power to save lives and improve the health of their communities by washing their hands with soap today and every day. Find out how to join us in celebrating Global Handwashing Day by visiting www.globalhandwashing.org or follow us on Twitter @HandwashingSoap.