Everyone can protect themselves, their families, and their communities through handwashing with soap. Though it requires few resources—soap and a small amount of water—the benefits are significant.
When handwashing with soap is practiced regularly at key times, such as after using the toilet or before contact with food, it can dramatically reduce the risk of diarrhea and pneumonia, which can cause serious illness and death. Handwashing with soap also helps prevent the spread of other infections, including influenza and Ebola.
A review conducted in 2017 analyzed proxy measures of handwashing behavior in Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys and Demographic & Health Surveys from 51 countries between 2010 and 2013, and found that the differences in soap availability were small or nonexistent in the countries, signifying that availability of soap is almost universal. Despite the fact that the world’s poorest households are less likely to have access to soap, cost is not the principal barrier to handwashing with soap.
Most individuals around the world can afford multipurpose soap bars, or detergent to make soapy water. Many households that do have access to soap often use it for laundry, dishwashing or bathing, rather than handwashing. Investments in handwashing promotion are highly cost effective, and can maximize the health benefits of other interventions—from access to clean water and sanitation infrastructure to nutrition promotion.
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© 2017 The Global Handwashing Partnership (GHP).