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The Global Handwashing Partnership

World Water Week—where does handwashing fit in?

August 31, 2017

By Carolyn Moore

Stockholm World Water Week displays the incredible diversity of efforts to achieve SDG 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. Among sessions on business opportunities in fecal sludge management, the role of WASH in reducing stunting, and how to produce sustainable fashion lines, it can be easy to ask how handwashing fits in.

The connection with handwashing and water is obvious—everyone needs water to wash their hands. But it’s increasingly clear that water and sanitation need handwashing to maximize their potential to improve lives. A few examples that stood out to me this week:

Several presentations discussed research showing hygiene as a key behavior to reduce stunting. Poor hygiene can prevent good sanitation and food supply from having a maximum impact on stunting. It’s an important example of how handwashing is essential to deliver SDG 3 and the World Health Organization’s target of a 40% reduction in stunting by 2025.

When discussing how to improve the WASH response to health emergencies, one strategy appeared across vector-borne, water-borne, and infectious diseases—hygiene. Handwashing with soap in healthcare facilities, for example, can protect health workers and patients, reduce the spread of diseases, and prevent against outbreaks.

A session on gender reminded us that while we often hear about the time poverty and risks that women face collecting water, many women spend even more time caring for family members who are sick from preventable diseases. Handwashing could therefore lead not only to better health, but reduce another way that poor WASH services have an inequitable effect on women.

It’s encouraging to see recognition of how handwashing fits in to other WASH priorities; but we know that handwashing is not an automatic outcome of access to water and sanitation. For the benefits of handwashing with soap to be realized, we need collaborative efforts and creative strategies. With the exciting examples of work underway in the water and sanitation sectors, equal effort must be made to drive behavior change for handwashing with soap.

To learn more about how to promote handwashing, visit the Global Handwashing Day website and join us for a webinar on ‘Norms, nudges, or addiction? Drivers for Handwashing Behavior Change’ on September 12th. Join the discussion around World Water Week by following #WWWeek on all social media platforms.

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