As we’ve learned from recent worldwide health epidemics, diseases can spread across the globe as fast as transcontinental 747 flight from Beijing to Boston. One easy daily exercise can go a long way to stopping the spread of dangerous viruses. We all have the power in our own hands to help prevent diseases. We all have the formula to a simple do-it-yourself vaccine.
And on October 15, over 200 million people from over 100 countries on five continents will join to spread a life-saving message to the world: Handwashing saves lives.
Global Handwashing Day is a worldwide initiative designed to motivate and mobilize people all over Earth to regularly wash their hands with soap. This effective and affordable daily practice is the world’s No. 1 method of disease prevention, especially global killers like diarrhea.
Global Handwashing Day was launched by The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing in 2008 at the annual World Water Week in Stockholm, when over 120 million children around the globe cleansed their hands with soap in more than 70 countries. The mission of Global Handwashing Day has grown to build clean sinks and tippy tanks worldwide and emphasize the simplicity and importance of clean hands. This global advocacy day has a three-point goal statement:
- Foster and support a global and local culture of handwashing with soap
- Shine a spotlight on the state of handwashing across the world
- Raise awareness about the benefits of handwashing with soap
GHD is also designed as a vehicle to reduce childhood mortality rates related to respiratory and diarrheal diseases. In poor and developing countries with limited health care resources, advocating the importance of regular handwashing with soap and sanitizer is especially essential to saving lives.
According to GlobalHandwashing.org, single gram of human feces can contain 10 million viruses and one million bacteria. The World Health Organization estimates diarrheal infections take the lives of 1.87 million children under age five each year, making the disease the world’s second most potent killer of that age group. UNICEF reports a child dies from diarrhea every 30 seconds.
“What if we lost 50 city buses full of children today,” asked Michael Beach, the associate director for healthy water in the Centers For Disease Control’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, in a January 2015 CDC World Health study on the worldwide epidemic. “That’s 2,195 children – the number who die daily of diarrhea around the world. That’s more than die from AIDS, malaria, and the measles combined.”
A most alarming statistic lies as a major cause of these sobering diarrheal mortality numbers: GlobalHandwashing.org research shows the observed rate of handwashing with soap at critical times (after using the restroom, before and after handling food) in developing countries at alarmingly low numbers ranging from zero to 34 percent.
In these especially at-risk countries, the practice needs to become the social norm and cornerstone of public health. Because handwashing can prevent the transmission of pathogens, it can be more effective than any single vaccine. The Centers For Disease Control reports the simple act of using this do-it-yourself vaccine after using the restroom kills disease agents and can reduce diarrheal infections of children under five by nearly 50 percent and respiratory infections by nearly 25 percent.
The target audience of Global Health Day is the world’s future and best messengers: children. GHD encourages and challenges to children to act as agents of change for the world, relaying the good practices of hygiene they learn at school to their families and communities. The active participation and involvement of children in GHD this October 15 can ensure sustained community-wide and planet-wide behavioral changes.
For we all have the power to save lives with clean hands.