15 October 2008 Nearly 200 million people from over 70 countries participated today in United Nations events marking the first ever Global Handwashing Day, held to raise awareness about how a lack of effective sanitation and poor hygiene practices can bring death and disease.
Handwashing with soap – particularly before eating and after using the toilet – is one of the most effective and inexpensive ways to prevent diarrhoeal disease and pneumonia, which together are responsible for almost 3.5 million child deaths every year, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) stated in a press release.
Additionally, UNICEF said handwashing with soap by birth attendants and mothers can increase newborn survival rates by up to 44 per cent.
UNICEF Senior Adviser for Sanitation and Hygiene Theref Dooley reiterated the need for awareness of the importance of handwashing.
“We hope an ordinary act such as handwashing becomes recognized as an extraordinary act that can save lives,” said Ms. Dooley.
The inaugural event focuses on children and schools, with the intention that children can act as agents of change by taking these lessons home to their families and communities.
“We hope to make handwashing fun. For children to participate it needs to be fun and then they will wash their hands by choice,” stated the UNICEF envoy.
Global Handwashing Day activities across the globe include the release of a catchy educational song by UNICEF ambassadors and popular children’s entertainers, The Wiggles, to help motivate millions of children worldwide by transforming the mundane act of handwashing into an enjoyable habit.
In India, where more than 100 million children participated in festivities, international cricket star Sachin Tendulkar joined forces with UNICEF to urge children to wash their hands for better health and hygiene.
The King of Cambodia Norodom Sihamoni also took part today washing his hands, while the President of Madagascar Marc Ravalomanana synchronized his involvement with schoolchildren across the country all washing their hands at midday.
In total, 77 countries participated, including the Philippines, Ghana, Pakistan, Tajikistan and South Africa.
Global Handwashing Day is an initiative of the Public Private Partnership for Handwashing which brings together multilateral organizations local community groups and private sector business for the social marketing campaign.
Spearheaded by UNICEF, other partners include the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Bank Water and Sanitation Programme, Procter and Gamble, and Unilever.
“By combining all sectors we can sell handwashing. It’s not just about selling soap as it is about selling handwashing,” stated Ms. Dooley.
With 2008 marking the UN International Year of Sanitation, Global Handwashing Day will support its ethos to promote improved sanitation and hygiene practices.
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