Global Handwashing Day 2015: Raise a hand for hygiene

‘Have you washed your hands?’ – a phrase that’s part of the repertoire of every parent’s cracked record soundtrack that includes other phrases such as ‘Come on!’ and ‘please stop poking your brother’…

GHD_signat_lockup1This week however, that global chorus gets amplified with multiple events in villages, towns and schools all over the world as people celebrate Global Handwashing Day on 15th October.

Practical Action will be leading celebrations or taking part in them in at least four countries across Asia and Africa, with the involvement of hundreds of thousands of people. These are wonderful, colourful events often with drama, and song, and of course some speeches – geared in the first place to getting the simple message across about the life-saving importance of washing hands at critical moments. The photo below is from the national event in Dhaka Bangladesh last year.

Global Handwashing Day celebrations in Dhaka in 2014

We know that this is particularly important for the urban poor where the density of population, atrocious sanitation and drainage conditions and irregular and sometimes unsafe water supplies pose high health risks. We often find that health indicators such as rates of diarrhoea, mortality rates for children under 5, and stunting (related to poor sanitation) are all higher in urban slums than the average for rural areas. A review of all randomised trials published earlier this year confirms that handwashing can prevent around 30% of diarrhoea episodes.

However, this year the event takes on added significance as a result of the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals. Under the previous Millennium Development Goals there was no mention at all of hygiene, and the WASH community has worked hard to ensure it is now included. Under Goal 6 to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, target 6.2 is for ‘adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all’. Although this inclusion is encouraging, the gains could be lost if the target cannot be measured. Currently the proposals for indicators only include a measure of sanitation and not of hygiene.

Organisers of Global Handwashing Day events around the world are therefore seeking to convey messages not only to participants, but to politicians. Under the banner of Raise a Hand for Hygiene we are looking toRaise a hand 2015

  • Raise awareness of the newly passed SDG commitment to hygiene, but also advocate for a dedicated indicator to measure this component
  • Ensure greater funding for hygiene behaviour change and handwashing infrastructure as part of national WASH or health budgets (the GLAAS report in 2014 found that countries are spending less than 1% of their WASH budget on hygiene promotion)
  • At Practical Action we are particularly concerned about the significant health risks that the urban poor face as a result of poor sanitation and hygiene conditions, leading to health outcomes which are often worse for slum dwellers than rural populations. More needs to be done to address their needs in ways which are adapted to the conditions they face.
  • Motivate local champions to carry the messages of hygiene and handwashing throughout the year

Leave a reply