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Over 80 countries celebrate the second annual Global Handwashing Day

Everyone can make a difference in the “Clean hands saves lives” campaign

Washington DC, 15 October 2009 – Each year, diarrhoeal diseases and acute respiratory infections are responsible for the deaths of more than 3.5 million children under the age of five.The second annual Global Hand washing Day, being celebrated today, shines a spotlight on the importance of hand washing with soap and water as one of the most effective and affordable health interventions.

Water alone is not enough. Washing hands with soap and water especially at the critical times -- after using the toilet and before handling food -- helps reduce the incidence of diarrhoeal disease by more than 40 per cent and respiratory infections by nearly 25 per cent.  Furthermore, washing hands with soap is also being recommended as a critical action to prevent the spread of influenza H1N1.

Yet, despite its life-saving potential, hand washing with soap is seldom practiced and not always easy to promote.

Although soap is available in most households around the world, observed rates of hand washing with soap at critical moments range from zero to 34 per cent.  For successful, and sustained behavioural change to occur, it is vital to incorporate community-based and community-sensitive approaches that understand what motivates people to change.

Unsafe water and inadequate sanitation are often major causes of lost work and missed school days, perpetuating the cycle of economic and social stagnation in many countries.  Investments in health, child survival, education, water supply, and sanitation are all jeopardized if there is a lack of emphasis on hand washing with soap.

Under the slogan of “Clean hands save lives,” the second annual Global Hand washing Day campaign aims to engage schoolchildren as effective agents for change. The introduction of water, sanitation and hygiene interventions in schools, including hand washing with soap, is an entry point for children to understand and then take these good hygiene practices back into their homes and communities.  

Improved sanitation and hygiene programmes combined with hand washing education directly impact the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 2: universal primary education and MDG 3: gender equality via higher enrolment, attendance and retention rates in schools for both girls and boys. Additionally, higher rates of hand washing with soap would significantly contribute towards meeting the MDG 4 of reducing deaths of children under the age of five by two-thirds by 2015.

Hand washing with soap represents a cornerstone of public health and can be considered an affordable, accessible “do-it-yourself” vaccine.

Approximately 200 million children lathered up for last year’s inaugural Global Hand washing Day in 86 countries across five continents. From Colombia to Bangladesh, from Kenya to the Philippines, from the United Kingdom to Ethiopia, schools and communities worldwide organized and participated in celebrations and hand washing campaigns.

This year millions more, including, children, teachers, parents, celebrities, and government officials in over 80 countries, plan to join the celebrations.

Global Hand washing Day is an initiative of the Global Public-Private Partnership for Hand washing with Soap, and is endorsed by a wide array of governments, international institutions, civil society organizations, NGOs, private companies and individuals worldwide.

In Suriname Global Hand washing Day will be launched by the end of October by having the first of 12 schools (1 from each district but 3 for Sipaliwini) visiting the CELOS Veterinary Laboratory at the ADEK University. They will scientifically identify the dirt on their hands by having it literally highlighted by the Digi Glow Viewer; and they will learn the practical steps of proper hand washing, so they can teach their families and their peers.  Apart from hosting the schools in the lab, CELOS, PAHO and UNICEF with strong support from the private sector:  ECOLAB-INTERFARM, Surinaamse Waterleiding Maatschappij NV, CIC, Ang Chemicals, We are also planning a nationwide competition for schools: who can come up with the most creative way to get the whole school to washing hands at the crucial moments: before handling food / eating and after using the toilet. Schools are able to win prizes to upgrade their sanitation facilities. Both activities (the lessons in the lab and the completion in schools) will last from the launch on, until World Health Day on April 7, 2010. Activities will be filmed and aired on national television to inform the wider public.  Schools who want to participate in 1 or both of the activities can register beginning next week by sending an e-mail to mail to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it   or by sending a sms to (597) 8542988.

To view the Global Hand washing Day website please visit:

For more information please contact:

  • Ms. Johanna Lakhisaran, Technical Officer,  PAHO/WHO Suriname
    at tel. nr. 471676, ext 240 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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