Would you be able to stay clean and healthy if you didn’t have clean water and a decent toilet? What if no-one had explained to you the importance of washing your hands with soap after going to the toilet and before eating?

Around the world, poor hygiene is making children sick, putting mothers and babies at risk in hospitals, and stopping young women staying safe and well on their period. This shouldn’t be normal.

Promoting hygienic behaviour is difficult because it involves changing habits and challenging traditional norms. But when you don’t have enough water to drink and cook with, let alone use for washing, you are forced to make a choice between what is essential and what is not. So hygiene promotion has to go hand in hand with access to safe water and toilets.

Take handwashing, for example. Just washing our hands with soap can cut cases of diarrhoea almost in half, saving hundreds of lives every single day. And it can have a positive effect on children’s education too.

What we do

WaterAid promotes hygiene in all of the countries where we work. The techniques vary from place to place but the principles are the same – we work closely with communities because they will find the best solutions and the best ways to promote lasting change.

There are endless possibilities for innovation.

Spreading the word

Menstruation is good. And it is normal.
Dennis, 14, Uganda

Attitudes towards hygiene and periods are changing, thanks in part to funding water, sanitation and hygiene clubs like the one at St Mary’s School in Uganda.

Girls and boys learn practical skills – such as how to make reusable sanitary towels – as well as basic good hygiene behaviour like handwashing. They then go out into the community and teach their friends and family what they have learnt, helping to change attitudes and establish good hygiene for generations to come.

Thank you, Dr Semmelweis

160 years ago, women were terrified of giving birth at Vienna’s General Hospital – until one man looked into the power of handwashing. Tragically, his life-saving findings proved to be ahead of their time.

Hungarian doctor, Ignaz Semmelweis in 1858.
Image: Ignaz Semmelweis

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