4 out of 5 people worldwide do not wash their hands after going to the toilet

3 min read
Image: WaterAid/Jordi Ruiz Cirera

Washing hands with soap and water reduces cases of diarrhoea by almost 50% - yet on average around the world only 19% of people wash hands with soap after defecation. On Global Handwashing Day, WaterAid urges governments worldwide to prioritise handwashing promotion, alongside water and sanitation, to save lives.

The simple act of washing hands can save lives: Handwashing with soap helps keep food safe, prevents diseases and helps children to be able to grow strong and healthy. In turn, it contributes to child survival, good nutrition, the ability to successfully attend school, and the economic benefits of greater productivity.

Yet globally only one in five people washes their hands after going to the toilet. If those people then go on consume food or to prepare it for others, the risk of contamination and diarrhoeal sickness significantly increases.

An estimated 289,000 children under five die each year of diarrhoeal diseases directly caused by dirty water, poor sanitation and the inability to wash hands with soap. Another 151 million children around the world have had their growth and development stunted by undernutrition, in which chronic infection and intestinal worms are a major factor.

Dr Om Prasad Gautam, Senior WASH Manager for Hygiene, WaterAid said:

It is evident that handwashing with soap is fundamental to effective hand hygiene, which in turn aids the prevention of diseases, reduces under-nutrition, and saves literally millions of lives. Despite its potential effectiveness, the global compliance on handwashing is low at only 19%, and foodborne infections are still high.

Combining handwashing with soap and good food hygiene brings health and economic benefits. We know handwashing with soap is essential for health workers, improving quality of care and reducing risk of cross-infection. It also makes children healthier, allowing them to go to school and learn, and helps adults remain healthy to go to work and earn a living or care for their families.

WaterAid is urging governments and leaders worldwide to prioritise hygiene promotion programmes, focused on changing behaviour in the long-term. One positive example is the new Handwashing Behaviour Change Think Tank which focuses on creating long-term changes in handwashing behaviour in Southeast Asia.

Global Handwashing Day is a global advocacy day dedicated to increasing awareness about the importance of handwashing with soap as an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives. It is an annual opportunity to design, test and replicate creative ways to encourage people to wash their hands with soap at critical times.

Key handwashing facts