A Cause for Celebration: Global Handwashing Day 2016

By Hanna Woodburn, The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing

Click this image to download the Social Media Toolkit and view other Global Handwashing Day graphics

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.



Taking Action and Marching for Improved WASH and Nutrition this Month

Originally published on the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing’s Website

The beginning of March here in Washington, DC is oftentimes accompanied by signs of an impending springtime. Slowly the days get a little bit longer and the cold winter winds begin to subside. For many, as trees and plants begin to bloom, springtime brings to mind new life. The first few days of spring are tenuous, and the same is true for the first months of a baby’s life. It is, thus, fitting that March kicks off two advocacy campaigns—Water Action Month and #March4Nutrition—that address significant issues of child survival.

Image from MCSPglobal

While to the casual observer, these two campaigns might seem very different, they in fact are incredibly intertwined. Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) interventions are critical allies in the fight against undernutrition, particularly in the first 1,000 days of life. This is because undernutrition is not only caused by a lack of food, but also the body’s inability to absorb nutrients from food.

Undernutrition and diarrhea form a vicious cycle, where children with diarrhea both eat less and are less able to absorb essential nutrients. Likewise, undernourished children are more susceptible to diarrheal diseases. WASH interventions can significantly reduce the risk of diarrheal disease; handwashing with soap alone can do so by up to 50%.  As such, improved access to WASH can help interrupt this cycle.

Undernutrition is the underlying cause of 45% of child deaths each year, but its impact is also much broader with lasting consequences for growth and development.1 Undernutrition manifests itself through reduced growth rate—or stunting—in early childhood. And, while the physical effects of stunting (reduced stature) are most visible, the negative repercussions that stunting can have on the cognitive development of children are lasting. Ultimately, undernutrition can have life-long consequences.

This is why we must continue to explore collaboration across the WASH and nutrition sectors. Evidence continues to emerge indicating that WASH and nutrition integration makes good sense. In Ethiopia, for instance, one study found that WASH interventions reduced the prevalence of stunting by 12 percent.2

Given the positive synergies between sectors, we are working to drive forward thinking around integration. To this end, we are proud to partner with colleagues from both the nutrition and early childhood development sectors in the Clean, Fed & Nurtured community of practice. This month we will celebrate Water Action Month and #March4Nutrition by sharing information and resources around WASH and nutrition integration with weekly facts on Twitter and blog updates with links to some of our favorite WASH and nutrition publications.

An estimated 860,000 deaths per year due to undernutrition can be prevented through WASH. So, please join us this month. Follow #WaterActionMonth and #March4Nutrition online and learn more about these key public health interventions.


  1. Black R et al. 2013. Maternal and Child Undernutrition and Overweight in Low-Income and Middle-Income Countries. The Lancet. 382 (9890): 427–451.
  2. Fenn, B., et al. (2012). An evaluation of an operations research project to reduce childhood stunting in a food-insecure area in Ethiopia. Public Health Nutrition.17, 1-9.