Global Handwashing Day 2021

3 min read
Image: WaterAid/Ernest Randriarimalala

Today, October 15 2021, is Global Handwashing Day.

We all want to stay clean and healthy. But around the world, poor hygiene behaviour is making people sick, keeping children out of school, and stopping adults from working.

Investing in hygiene is good value for money, but in many countries, it is undervalued and underfunded.

Good hygiene habits, like handwashing with soap, food hygiene, using a decent toilet and drinking clean water, keep people clean and healthy. Children can go to school, mothers can give birth safely, and young women can have their periods with dignity.

We know through experience that simply explaining the importance of good hygiene isn’t enough to make lasting change happen. We listen to people to understand what really motivates them to take up new hygiene habits. We share what works to make change happen all over the world.

  • 3 out of 10 people – 2.3 billion globally – lack soap and water for handwashing at home. This left more than 2.3 billion people at increased risk of COVID-19 and other infections because they could not wash their hands.
  • At current rates of progress, 1.9 billion people – families and children – will still be unable to wash their hands with soap and water at home by 2030.
  • •or everyone, everywhere to have access to good hygiene by 2030 (achieving the Sustainable Development Goal), progress would need to move at least four times faster. 
  • Living without safely managed water, sanitation and hygiene services contributes to 1.6 million deaths from preventable diseases each year. These deaths are higher among children and vulnerable groups.
  • One in three healthcare facilities do not have adequate amenities to clean hands where care is provided.

Help us demand #HandHygieneforAll

  • Handwashing is a first-line of defence in preventing outbreaks and reducing the toll of both current and future pandemics.
  • If everyone, everywhere could wash their hands with soap and water, it would reduce infection in a pandemic like COVID-19 by 20%.
  • Currently, hand hygiene is chronically underfunded. Governments must urgently increase investment. 
  • Achieving universal access to hand hygiene could unlock trillions of dollars of value for developing economies during the next two decades.
  • The annual net benefits of achieving universal basic hygiene (2021-2040) is estimated to be $45 billion per year.
  • Handwashing promotion is cost-effective when compared with other frequently funded health interventions. Investments in health, education, and improved water supply are threatened by the lack of handwashing with soap

Sunita standing outside the health post
Image: WaterAid/Mani Karmacharya

Sunita Kharel, senior auxiliary nurse midwife, health posts in charge, Bhumlutaar, Kavre, Nepal (Sep 2020). She has worked here for 26 years.

  • “I have witnessed a lot of changes in people’s hygiene habits. Of course, people are more knowledgeable and educated these days but also the global pandemic has made people change their hygiene behaviour, especially handwashing with soap and water. 
  • “Since handwashing is very important to prevent the spread of the virus, the hands-free handwashing stations are very useful for public places like us. Health centres are the first place where people visit when they have a health issue, so it is quite important that we avoid infection and contamination. Previously, we used to keep a bucket and a soap to wash hands, but they were not very practical as people had to touch the water mug and the soap as well.
  • "Now that the handwashing station is installed right at the entrance, everybody can easily wash their hands without touching the taps so there is a less risk of being infected. It is very comfortable to use as it is foot-operated. Since this is a new device for the people in the village, we might have to teach the people to use it. After the installation of this hands-free handwashing station, I feel pretty much safer.”