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Proper handwashing may save lives of 800 children a day worldwide: UNICEF

Proper handwashing may save lives of 800 children a day worldwide: UNICEF

Over 300,000 children under five died from diarrhoeal diseases linked to limited access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene in 2015 – UNICEF

ISLAMABAD – On the occasion of Global Handwashing Day, UNICEF says that, in 2015, more than 300,000 children under the age of five died globally from diarrhoeal infections linked to poor access to safe drinking water and sanitation – a rate of more than 800 per day. Yet many of these deaths could have been prevented through the simple act of handwashing with soap.

‘Every year, 1.4 million children are dying from largely preventable diseases like pneumonia and diarrhea,’ said UNICEF’s global head of water, sanitation, and hygiene Sanjay Wijesekera. ‘These are staggering numbers, but they could be greatly reduced by working with children and families to adopt a very straightforward solution – handwashing. We know, for example, that handwashing with soap before meals and after using the toilet could reduce the incidence of diarrhoeal infections by 40 percent.’

Proper handwashing practice also contributes to the healthy development of children by keeping them in school. Handwashing actually improves school attendance by reducing the spread of preventable diseases, which means children are not staying home because of illness.

“Handwashing just makes sense as a frontline preventive measure to keep children safe from disease – it’s simple, cost effective and a proven lifesaver,” said Wijesekera.

Every year, approximately 53,000 children in Pakistan die from diarrhea linked to poor access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Ensuring proper hygiene including hand washing with soap at critical times is essential to reducing these cases. Government studies suggest that only about 63.5% of households in Pakistan are reported to have water and soap available for hand washing, the statistics are starker in rural areas.

UNICEF and its partners work alongside communities to promote the use of low-cost handwashing facilities at households. In schools, UNICEF promotes group handwashing sessions where children receive information on hygiene promotion which they later replicate at home.

“A simple act like handwashing with soap could make a significant contribution to the health and wellbeing of a child,” said Cris Munduate, UNICEF Deputy Representative in Pakistan. “Not only does it help prevent diseases, it also reduces the likelihood that they will suffer from undernutrition. Children suffering from continuous bouts of diarrhea or other infections resulting from poor water and sanitation are most likely to fall behind in school or drop out altogether. Urgent action is needed to ensure that even the most deprived children have access to safe water and sanitation facilities. On this Global Handwashing Day let us all resolve to make handwashing a habit.”

With cholera spreading fast in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, and with a new outbreak in war-ravaged Yemen, UNICEF urges children, families, and communities to make washing hands with soap a habit to help prevent the spread of diseases.

Simple act of handwashing with soap could save thousands of lives

Facts on Handwashing:

  • 1 gram of faeces contains 100 million bacteria.
  • Approximately 1 in 5 people globally washes their hands after using the toilet.
  • Each year, 1.7 million children do not live to celebrate their fifth birthday because of diarrhea and pneumonia.
  • When children wash their hands with soap after going to the toilet or before eating, they reduce their risk of getting diarrhea by more than 40 per cent.
  • Acute respiratory infections like pneumonia are the leading cause of death in children under the age of five.
  • Evidence suggests that handwashing with soap after using the toilet and before eating could reduce the pneumonia infection rate among children by around a quarter.

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