Water is everywhere — covering almost three-quarters of the earth’s surface — yet nearly one billion people in the world do not have safe water. In addition, inadequate sanitation destroys lives, increases disease and infections, undermines economic growth, and prevents children from attending school.
On October 15th, we celebrate Global Handwashing Day with the great hope of a healthier future for children and families.
Children washing their hands in celebration of Global Handwashing Day. Photo Credit: USAID/Indonesia
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. Washing ones hands with soap could reduce world-wide rates of diarrhea by almost half and save at least one million lives.
People all over the world wash their hands with water. But washing hands with water alone is significantly less effective than washing hands with soap in terms of removing germs, and handwashing with soap is seldom practiced.
Handwashing with soap works by interrupting the transmission of disease. Hands often act as vectors that carry disease-causing pathogens from person to person, either through direct contact or indirectly via surfaces. When not washed with soap, hands that have been in contact with human or animal feces, bodily fluids like nasal excretions, and contaminated foods or water can transport bacteria, viruses and parasites to unwitting hosts.
USAID works in partnership with host countries to reduce diarrheal disease prevalence and improve child survival through sustainable improvements in three key hygiene behaviors: hand washing with soap, safe feces disposal, and safe storage and treatment of drinking water at the household level. These health-focused interventions complement community and municipal water supply infrastructure programs by empowering households with the tools to protect their own health.
For the greatest impact, hands should be scrubbed with soap for at least 20 seconds. Hands should always be washed with soap after using the toilet, cleaning a child’s bottom, and before eating or handling food.
On December 1, 2005, the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act made access to safe water and sanitation for developing countries a specific policy objective of U.S. foreign assistance programs. As a result, the U.S. has strengthened our response to water, sanitation and hygiene challenges in developing countries. Promoting Global Handwashing Day is essential to advancing the goals of the Act.
Last year, the United States invested about $774 million for all water sector and sanitation-related activities in developing countries, and as a result, some 5.7 million people received improved access to safe drinking water and 1.3 million received improved access to sanitation. We want to continue to build on these efforts and those of our partner countries.