Washing hands with soap and water has been and remains one of the most cost-effective measures against the transmission of diseases that are available in public health. The promotion of proper hand washing with soap and water can save many lives.
Each year about 3.5 million children, die before their fifth birthday due to preventable diseases, mainly diarrhea and acute respiratory diseases. The adoption of the habit of washing hands with soap and water before eating and after defecating, can prevent nearly half the number of deaths from diarrhea, and almost one-fourth of deaths from acute respiratory diseases.
To achieve the Millennium Development Goal #4 of reducing, by more than two-thirds, the number of deaths in children under 5 years of age, before 2015, it is necessary to promote hand washing on a large scale.
In order to forge international partnerships and promote hand washing, the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing (PPPHW) promotes, since 2008, the Global Day Handwashing Day, held on the 15th of October, each year.
Also in collaboration with Global PPPHW partners, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), has been encouraging the accurate counting of participants in GHD events to provide incentives and recognitions for breaking new records every year. The purpose of this initiative is to support the mobilization of the schools during the celebrations of the Global Handwashing Day, attract the attention of the media, and strengthen country programs promoting hygiene, hand washing and sanitation throughout the year
Since 2008, PAHO worked with the countries in the Americas towards breaking a Guinness World Record on handwashing. It was in 2009 when a record number of 52,970 people washing their hands at the same time was established in Bangladesh. In the Americas, the number of participants who registered for a Guinness Records increased from 7,585 in 2009, to 21,470 in 2010, and 740,870 in 2011 which currently stands as the Guinness World Record of people washing ther hands, at the same time, in multiple locations.