On Friday 15 October—Global Handwashing Day—children all over the Americas will try to establish the Guiness World Record for the highest number of students washing their hands at the same time. It's a fun way to foster a culture of handwashing with soap, a habit that is among the most effective and inexpensive ways to prevent diarrheal diseases and pneumonia.
Since its inception in 2008—which was designated as the International Year of Sanitation by the UN General Assembly—Global Handwashing Day has been echoing and reinforcing the call for improved hygiene practices worldwide.
The guiding vision of Global Handwashing Day is a local and global culture of handwashing with soap. Although people around the world wash their hands with water, very few wash their hands with soap at critical moments (for example, after using the toilet, while cleaning a child, and before handling food).
Handwashing with soap is among the most effective and inexpensive ways to prevent diarrheal diseases and pneumonia, which together are responsible for the majority of child deaths. Every year, more than 3.5 million children1 do not live to celebrate their fifth birthday because of diarrhea and pneumonia. Yet, despite its lifesaving potential, handwashing with soap is seldom practiced and not always easy to promote.
About Global Handwashing Day
The challenge is to transform handwashing with soap from an abstract good idea into an automatic behavior performed in homes, schools, and communities worldwide. Turning handwashing with soap before eating and after using the toilet into an ingrained habit could save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention, cutting deaths from diarrhea by almost half and deaths from acute respiratory infections by one-quarter.
More handwashing with soap would make a significant contribution to meeting the Millennium Development Goal of reducing deaths among children under the age of five by two-thirds by 2015. Global Handwashing Day will be the centerpiece of a week of activities that will mobilize millions of people across five continents to wash their hands with soap.
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