October 7, 2016
By Bijan Manavizadeh
Celebrated annually on October 15, Global Handwashing Day is a global advocacy day dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding about the importance of handwashing with soap as an easy, effective, and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives. This year’s theme is “Make Handwashing a Habit!”. In light of this theme, I would like to take this opportunity to discuss how promoting habits as part of your celebration might lead to the development of sustained handwashing behavior.
Habit formation is an ongoing process and it requires continuous effort to encourage practitioners to not lose motivation and revert back to poor handwashing behavior. In order to effectively promote routine handwashing, stations must be accessible, properly maintained, and always stocked with soap and water. So, for instance, if you host a handwashing demonstration at a community center for Global Handwashing Day, make sure permanent, functional handwashing facilities are available so the behavior can be sustained. Pairing habit-formation initiatives with small doable actions can be an effective strategy. Behaviors are more likely to be adopted into a routine when they are both desirable and feasible for the practitioner. Small doable actions for improving handwashing practices might include building a tippy-tap near a household latrine or holding a soap drive at a local school. Nudges, such as painting handwashing stations a visible, bright color, are another way to help remind people to wash their hands.
Global Handwashing Day—and the practice of making handwashing a habit—can be celebrated by everyone, everywhere. Traditionally, schools have been a significant venue for Global Handwashing Day celebrations, as handwashing with soap at critical times can help reduce school absenteeism. Because schooldays are organized around routines, demonstrating handwashing before lunch to educate children to wash hands before meals can have a big impact on routine-building, and given their knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors, children can be harnessed to act as agents of change to share these or similar lessons and positively influence other people’s (for instance, family members) health behaviors.
Global Handwashing Day efforts are important in other contexts as well. It can be used as an opportunity to remind healthcare workers about handwashing between patient contact to reduce infection transmission. In workplaces, employers can ensure workers have access to hygiene facilities, which not only keep employees healthy, but can also impact productivity. Governments can use the day to ensure that handwashing facilities in public places are clean and accessible, particularly for the elderly and individuals living with disabilities. And, through partnerships, soap manufacturers, civil society organizations, and local governments can each leverage their areas of expertise to prompt change and promote key handwashing messages amongst a wider audience.
While Global Handwashing Day is a once-a-year opportunity to make a big splash, hygiene promotion shouldn’t end after October 15. If all celebrants advocated for handwashing with soap every day, there would be significant progress in moving towards the goal of increasing hygiene programs, investment, and behavior. I encourage you to learn more about habits by visiting our website, where you will find our habits fact sheet, a more in-depth look at habit as a key topic in behavior change, and ideas for promoting handwashing Beyond Global Handwashing Day. Lastly, please take a look at the infographic on the right for five simple and important actions you can take to promote handwashing habits going forward.
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© 2017 The Global Handwashing Partnership (GHP).