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[Event Summary] Global Handwashing Day Annual Event

October 19, 2023

By: Meriam Zegeye, Global Handwashing Partnership

On October 11th, the Global Handwashing Partnership hosted its annual Global handwashing Day event to celebrate handwashing progress and energize commitments to handwashing going forward. The event featured global and country level leaders and highlighted opportunities for changemaking at the individual level. 

Participants were welcomed by Ron Clemmer, Secretariat Director of the Global Handwashing Partnership. In her opening remarks, Nga Nguyen, Senior WASH & Social and Behavior Change Advisor at USAID, gave an inspiring overview of this year’s ‘Clean Hands are Within Reach’ theme. This year’s theme calls for 100% coverage of hand hygiene facilities across key settings such as homes, workplaces, healthcare facilities, and public settings. Ms. Nguyen reiterated the need for efforts at all levels to achieve universal hand hygiene, highlighting the need for strong coordination, financing, data, and capacity building. She emphasized that, while tremendous progress has been reached, we must triple our efforts to reach hand hygiene targets. Ms. Nguyen closed her remarks by calling on leaders, donors, practitioners, and academics to embrace their role in achieving this goal. 

The next segment of the event featured a global-level panel moderated by Julia Rosenbaum, Senior Technical Advisor at FHI 360. Panelist Joanna Esteves-Mills, Technical Officer of WASH Unit, World Health Organization (WHO) addressed the importance of clarity of roles and responsibilities for WASH actors. Ms. Esteves-Mills highlighted the negative impact of inconsistent hand hygiene implementation guidelines and the existing country-level demand for clear guidelines. The WHO, in partnership with UNICEF and other partner organizations, is currently in the process of developing clear, globally applicable guidelines for hand hygiene in community settings. Panelist Parnil Sarin, Director at Lifebuoy Unilever, highlighted the strengths of the private sector in delivering culturally sensitive and effective interventions. Ms. Sarin discussed Lifebuoy’s ‘H for Handwashingcampaign as a continuation of the brand’s historic commitment to saving lives through hand hygiene messaging. In partnership with early childhood development experts and Imagimake, a leading toy company in India, Lifebuoy launched its play to learn campaign by reimagining popular board games to teach children about handwashing. Ben Tidwell, Senior Technical Advisor at World Vision, emphasized the need for improved monitoring of hand hygiene facilities which accurately tracks their quality and impact. Mr. Tidwell highlighted World Vision’s capacity to partner with other actors in implementation research. As an implementation organization, World Vision’s community WASH programs across 42 countries provide good context to conduct research such as product uptake and the effectiveness of messaging.

Nat Paynter, Senior Sanitation and Hygiene Consultant at UNICEF, gave an overview of the Hand Hygiene Acceleration Framework Tool (HHAFT), developed by UNICEF, WHO, and WaterAid in response to a Hand Hygiene for All call for governments to accelerate their progress on hand hygiene. The tool both tracks the process that governments undertake to develop and implement a plan of action as well as the quality of the plan. Mr. Paynter shared insights from the HHAFT such as the extent of hand hygiene integration across different sectors and the potential for greater private sector involvement. Mr. Paynter illustrated country findings from Belize, Moldova and Iraq, providing context for the country-level panel discussion

The country-level panel discussion featured Dr. Ion Salaru, Deputy Director of National Agency of Public Health, Republic of Moldova and Dr. Suzan Al Zubaidy, Director of Health Promotion of Federal Ministry of Health, Government of Iraq. Dr. Salaru emphasized the country’s commitment to hand hygiene as a priority public health issue. The country celebrates its high level of access to basic hand hygiene (87%) as reported in the HHAFT and is determined to increase access to the rest of its population. Dr. Salaru described the country’s hand hygiene activities in educational institutions and healthcare facilities and its plans to expand into residential and public settings. Dr. Al Zubaidy highlighted the hand hygiene progress gained in Iraq during the COVID-19 pandemic by leveraging cultural and religious norms of hygiene to further promote handwashing. Both leaders underpinned the importance of coordination across ministries and sectors for continued progress and sustainable financing. 

A series of videos were shown throughout the event to highlight the commitments of global, country, and individual level efforts to reach hand hygiene targets. Introducing the individual-level segment of the event was a video featuring Aarin Palomares, Global Handwashing Partnership, and two videos from the Creating Clean Hands youth video contest. Ms. Palomares gave an empowering message emphasizing the power of individuals in ensuring that clean hands are within reach. Mr. Clemmer reflected on the need to use innovative means such as youth videos to continue making progress toward hand hygiene targets. 

The event was closed by Ann Thomas, Senior Advisor, Sanitation and Hygiene for UNICEF who reflected on achievements and shifts in handwashing since Global Handwashing Day was first celebrated 15 years ago. From the year 2012 to the year 2022, there has been a 30% increase in the percentage of people with access to basic handwashing facilities. The first Global Handwashing Day celebration in 2008 gathered organizations and over 100 countries to celebrate the importance of handwashing. In later years, efforts shifted towards collecting data on hand hygiene and emerging research on motivators for behavior change. In more recent years and especially during the pandemic, countries expressed interest in institutional accountability and bringing handwashing into the public policy realm. She expressed her excitement to hear discussions about behavior change, coordination, and financing during the event and encouraged actors at all levels to continue in these efforts for sustainable progress towards ensuring that clean hands are within reach for everyone.

View the event recording below.


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