Here’s what Nancy L. Pontius reported on America.gov:
Littleton, Colorado — Every year, diarrhea and pneumonia kill more than 3.5 million children under age 5 worldwide. Many of them could have been saved by the simple act of washing hands.
Studies have shown that handwashing with soap can cut deaths from diarrhea by almost 50 percent and deaths from acute respiratory infections by 25 percent — saving more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention. The challenge is to transform handwashing with soap from an abstract idea into an automatic behavior in homes, schools and communities worldwide.
To promote this life-saving habit, millions of children in 20 countries across five continents will participate in the first Global Handwashing Day on October 15. Supporters of the event will focus on mobilizing school children worldwide to wash their hands with soap to increase the practice of this important behavior.
Global Handwashing Day is supported by the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap (PPPHW). Established in 2001, partnership members include the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), World Bank, Water and Sanitation Program, UNICEF, Unilever, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health.
“Global Handwashing Day is designed to bring international and individual country attention to this critical public health intervention,” John Borrazzo, chief of the Maternal and Child Health Division, USAID Bureau for Global Health, told America.gov.
The event supports the 2008 World Water Week conference’s international focus for this year on sanitation. (See “2008 World Water Week Highlights Water-Related Challenges.”)
“Global Handwashing Day is important because diarrhea still unnecessarily kills 1.6 million children a year, and we know that effective handwashing with soap can prevent almost 50 percent of these diarrhea [illnesses],” Borrazzo said. “Recent research results also show that effective handwashing by birth attendants and mothers may reduce newborn deaths — which globally total 4 million a year — by as much as 40 percent.”
OBSERVANCES PLANNED AROUND THE WORLD
During the week of October 15th, from India to Egypt, Peru to China, Indonesia to Ethiopia, high-profile promotional and educational activities are planned for school children, teachers and parents — joined by government officials and celebrities — to raise awareness that handwashing with soap is a powerful public health intervention.
In Madagascar, President Marc Ravalomanana and the government of Madagascar worked with the USAID Hygiene Improvement Project (HIP), local soap companies, the media and others to plan an all-out national weeklong celebration of Global Handwashing Day. During the week of October 15, all of Madagascar’s 19,300 primary schools will participate in the activities, culminating with 3.5 million children all washing their hands at noon on Global Handwashing Day. A parade of schoolchildren through the capital also is planned for October 15.
In Pakistan, the country’s vision for Global Handwashing Day is to have 1 million school children across the country all wash their hands on October 15. This will be accomplished through many local groups and school programs working with members of the PPPHW, including USAID and multinational consumer products maker Procter & Gamble.
USAID’s Pakistan Safe Drinking Water and Hygiene Promotion Project (PSDW-HPP) plans to celebrate with 65 partner nongovernmental, community and government organizations. Planned activities include interactive theater performances, speeches from community leaders and creative classroom activities to complement the interactive hygiene curriculum currently used by PSDW-HPP in more than 20,000 schools. School activities will end with an oath to always wash hands with soap at critical times and to help others to do so.
Procter & Gamble intends to teach 75,000 Pakistani children via its Safeguard Schools Program on October 15.
INTERNATIONAL HYGIENE EDUCATION PROJECTS
For many years, U.S. public and private organizations have joined with other countries to help develop the vital habit of handwashing with soap.
“USAID has long recognized the importance of incorporating hygiene education and handwashing promotion as part of both maternal and child programs, and water supply and sanitation activities,” Borrazzo said. “We have worked for over a decade with many international partners to encourage handwashing, including promotion through the community, private sector, health facilities and schools.”
For example, USAID has been assisting with hygiene-behavior education through one component of USAID’s participation in the $59 million West Africa Water Initiative (WAWI) that began in 2002. WAWI’s 13 partner organizations — including the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, World Vision, UNICEF, USAID, WaterAid, Winrock International and World Chlorine Council — work in Ghana, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.
Multiple USAID programs partner with international organizations in many countries to carry out relevant hygiene education and sanitation programs, including in Ethiopia, Nepal, Madagascar, Pakistan and Indonesia.
“School programs that teach the benefits of handwashing and effective handwashing techniques have been shown to increase handwashing behavior,” Jay Gooch, associate director of external relations for Procter & Gamble, told America.gov. “Young people are the most effective age group to reach to develop this habit,” he said.
In Pakistan, 7.5 million schoolchildren have participated in Procter & Gamble’s Safeguard Schools Program since 2003. In a country where more than 250,000 Pakistani children die from diarrhea annually, the practice of handwashing could save many lives.
In China, more than 24 million school children have participated in Procter & Gamble’s Safeguard Schools Program since 1999.
More information is available on the Web sites for Global Handwashing Day and the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap.