By Hanna Woodburn, The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing
Every October 15, hundreds of thousands of schools, community groups, organizations, and governments join together to promote handwashing with soap and celebrate Global Handwashing Day. This year is no different. Handwashing with soap is most often promoted by the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector, but the impact of good WASH services and practices extend beyond this sector alone. Clean hands are important for achieving benefits in a range of sectors, such as nutrition.
Undernutrition is the underlying cause of 45% of child deaths and contributes to 73% of diarrheal deaths each year. A child might survive being plagued by undernutrition during their first years of life, but the effects will be with them a lifetime as, for 161 million children, undernutrition leads to stunting. Good handwashing practices can help reduce undernutrition by 50% and access to soap can significantly help ward off diarrhea, thereby reducing the likelihood of stunting and its lifelong impacts on brain development. What is more, in one study, the mortality rate among neonates whose birth attendants and mothers had good handwashing practices was approximately 40% lower than those whose birth attendants and mothers had poor handwashing practices.
Integrating WASH with nutrition and early child development (ECD) interventions enables projects to tackle undernutrition in a more comprehensive way. Handwashing can be strategically integrated into various programs; doing so can render the design of activities more efficient and strengthen outcomes. Given the clear links between handwashing and other sectors, Global Handwashing Day presents an opportune time for those who work in the nutrition or early child development sectors to promote integrated interventions.
Global Handwashing Day—October 15—is a global advocacy day dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding about the importance of handwashing with soap as an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives. The theme for Global Handwashing Day this year is “Make handwashing a habit!”
Habit formation is a new area of focus within behavior change and the WASH sector. This theme emphasizes that handwashing must be practiced regularly to have an impact on health and wellbeing. For organizations working in nutrition or ECD, this theme can be easily modified to highlight the impact of hygiene on integration. For instance, an organization could say, “Make handwashing a habit because it prevents diarrhea!” or “Make handwashing a habit because it improves nutrition!”
The founder of Global Handwashing Day, the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing (PPPHW), encourages organizations that work in the nutrition or early child development to celebrate hygiene this October 15. To learn more about Global Handwashing Day, find resources for celebrations (such as a Planner’s Guide or social media toolkit), and more information about the theme, please visit www.globalhandwashingday.org or contact the PPPHW via email.