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Global Handwashing Day – Accelerating Toward Hand Hygiene for All

October 19, 2020

On October 15, 2020, the Permanent Mission of Finland to the United Nations and the United Kingdom Permanent Mission to the United Nations, in collaboration with UN Water, WHO, UNICEF, the Global Handwashing Partnership, and Hand Hygiene for All core partners hosted a high-level event in honor of Global Handwashing Day. The event sought to galvanize action from leaders across global, regional, and national levels to accelerate progress toward hand hygiene for all.

Hand hygiene protects against various communicable diseases, including COVID-19. Yet, 3 billion people around the world lack access to a basic handwashing facility at home. Likewise, nearly half of all schools and 30% of healthcare facilities lack adequate hand hygiene facilities at key points. Through affordable hand hygiene supplies, evidence-based behavioral approaches and supportive communities, we can sustain hand hygiene habits.

Hand Hygiene for All means addressing everyone, everywhere, especially those who are most vulnerable. While substantial, long-lasting improvement in hand hygiene will not happen overnight, we must take steps toward the overarching vision of hand hygiene being universally recognized, promoted and practiced. This calls for not only response to the immediate outbreak but building back better and reimaging a culture of hand hygiene. Specifically, this calls for countries to develop country roadmaps that build on their strengths and fill critical gaps to build long-lasting hand hygiene habits.

The event brought together a distinguished panel of experts to make a strong case for investment in hand hygiene. It also highlighted examples from across a number of countries where hand hygiene is being scaled up as a core response to the present pandemic and a critical preventative measure for future outbreaks. Throughout the event, several testimonies were made from leaders in government, private sector, and civil society as well as representatives from Permanent Missions to the United Nations. Through these testimonies, leaders from across sectors and disciplines committed to prioritizing hand hygiene in their work, with a view to accelerating progress towards hand hygiene for all by 2030. This includes prioritizing hand hygiene in response to COVID-19 but also as a critical component of long term development strategies to secure health, wellbeing and dignity for communities across the globe, and in particular for the most vulnerable.

This global pandemic provides unique impetus to institutionalize hand hygiene as a mainstay in public health interventions to stop the virus today and to reduce the risk of future outbreaks. To achieve hand hygiene for all, there must be a strong enabling environment; adequate, equitable access to hand hygiene products and services; and evidence-based behavior change interventions. Furthermore, strong political leadership is critical in championing hand hygiene at all levels.

One thing is abundantly clear – political leadership is critical to achieving the improvements for hand hygiene needed. This event is the strongest demonstration of this leadership to-date. We must now capitalize on the commitment voiced to transform good will into effective action towards sustainable change.

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