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Finland’s Commitment to Hand Hygiene for All

October 20, 2020

By: Permanent Representative of Finland to the United Nations, H.E. Mr Jukka Salovaara

In all honesty, I had not talked nor thought about washing hands much before this year. Then came COVID-19 – and our best and first defense against the disease was, and still is, handwashing with soap. While the pandemic has acted as a stark reminder to everyone on the importance of practicing good hand hygiene, it has also highlighted the deep inequalities that persist globally in access to safe water and the facilities that enable such practices.

It should continue to shock us that 3 billion people still lack access to basic handwashing facilities at home, leaving them at a much greater risk of infections. We must do better in order to achieve universal hand hygiene and to ensure that the most vulnerable communities have access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and thus the means to protect their health and environment. “Hand hygiene for all” means handwashing facilities in key places beyond the private sphere. Accessible and available handwashing facilities in public spaces, such as healthcare facilities and schools, are needed. Currently, 1 in 6 healthcare facilities and almost half of the schools in the world lack hygiene service.

Access to WASH services is first and foremost a question of fulfilling the rights to water and sanitation, but also a public health issue. Handwashing with soap is one of the most effective actions you can take to reduce the spread of pathogens and prevent infections, including waterborne diseases. WHO estimates that 3.4 million children each year die from waterborne diseases, and UNICEF estimates that 2,000 children die every day from diarrhea. These deaths are easily preventable. The simple act of washing hands with soap can reduce diarrheal diseases among adults and young children by 42 to 47 per cent.

Handwashing with soap can help build healthier and more gender equal communities, fight malnutrition, keep children healthy and in school. This is especially important for girls. Adequate handwashing facilities form part of the hygiene services needed for menstrual hygiene management, which plays a key role in retaining girls in schools.

Water and sanitation have been one of the long-term priorities of Finland’s development cooperation. Through our cooperation in the WASH sector, approximately 10 million people in partner countries have gained access to clean water. Currently, we are particularly focusing on the provision of water supply and sanitation in rural areas in cooperation with local communities in Ethiopia, Kenya and Nepal. We emphasize equality, non-discrimination and long-term planning of water supply. It is very important for Finland to continue to achieve the objectives of Sustainable Development Goal 6.

This Global Handwashing Day, we were able to gather a lot of momentum for hand hygiene through the UN celebration, “Global Handwashing Day – Accelerating Toward Hand Hygiene for All.” This event provided an opportunity to bring global awareness to this pressing issue. We must continue to use upcoming high-level meetings to address the issue of hand hygiene. At the UN, we have an opportunity to further opportunities to boost global commitment to achieve SDG 6 on clean water and sanitation for all.

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