October 12, 2023
By: Sophie Hickling and Om Prasad Gautam
Abida, 10, washes her hands with soap and fresh running water. Jatrabari, Dhaka, Bangladesh. September 2022. WaterAid/ Habibul Haque
The theme of Global Handwashing Day this year is “clean hands are within reach”. Yet almost 2 billion people still don’t have access to basic handwashing facilities. In this blog, Sophie Hickling and Om Prasad Gautam discuss the importance of working throughout the hand hygiene system to ensure clean hands really can be within reach for everyone, everywhere.
Handwashing with soap saves lives. It is a highly cost-effective investment that can prevent the spread of infectious diseases in communities, schools and healthcare facilities. However, access to handwashing facilities* and products, such as soap, is severely inadequate. Despite progress, almost two billion people worldwide still don’t have access to basic hygiene services*. This includes 653 million people who don’t have a handwashing facility in their home. Right now, only 13% of countries that report hygiene data are on track to reach the SDG target. For everyone, everywhere to have access to handwashing services* by 2030 global rates of progress need to triple.
There are disparities in access to handwashing services between regions and countries, and between urban and rural areas. In almost all countries, levels of access are lower in rural areas than urban areas. But since 2015 progress in urban areas – which often present complex challenges – has stagnated. There are also wealth inequalities; the poorest people are least likely to have access to handwashing services with soap and water.
Institutions, such as schools and healthcare facilities, that are key to preventing the spread of diseases significantly lack handwashing services, making them potential centres of disease transmission instead. Globally 43% of schools don’t have basic handwashing services (PDF), and 49% of healthcare facilities don’t have a place for handwashing either near or in toilet cubicles, or where care is provided.
Lijalem Ayal, manager at Woynima health centre, wash his hands using the handwashing facility at the health centre in Jabi Tehnan District, Amhara Region, Ethiopia. March 2022. WaterAid / Frehiwot Gebrewold
While there is no question that handwashing with soap is a crucial response to disease outbreaks such as cholera, Ebola and COVID-19, it is also an important means of preventing endemic diarrhoeal diseases and acute respiratory infections (ARIs), which continue to contribute to morbidity and mortality, particularly in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). In fact, ARIs attributable to inadequate hand hygiene represent 14% of the total ARI disease burden, according to the latest burden of disease report.
Evidence also suggests that handwashing with soap can:
And good hygiene reduces infection-related infant (under 1 year old) deaths in healthcare facilities by 27% (PDF).
Hand hygiene has long been established as a critical, preventative measure for many diseases. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, stakeholders united under government leadership to drive action towards universal hand hygiene. Now, to ensure clean hands are within reach for everyone, everywhere by 2030, this drive and ambition must be maintained.
We need action across the whole hand hygiene system, which must include:
WaterAid/ Mani Karmacharya
We work with governments, partners and communities across the hand hygiene system to ensure access to water, sanitation and hygiene services that underpin good hygiene behaviours. In doing so:
As a core partner of the Hand Hygiene for All Global Initiative, we have supported many national governments such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan and Zambia to develop costed hand hygiene roadmaps and will support many more. We are also committed to sharing our learning from this process.
We are committed to continuing to prioritise hand hygiene throughout our work and will not stop until everyone, everywhere has access to handwashing services. We call on governments, donors and the private sector to continue prioritising hand hygiene in their policies, programmes and fundings to ensure hand hygiene is within reach for all.
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© 2017 The Global Handwashing Partnership (GHP).