Hand hygiene saves lives. To contain the spread of COVID-19 and many other infectious diseases, it is critically important to clean your hands regularly with water and soap or alcohol-based hand rub.

Until just 170 years ago, many people thought infections were caused by foul, polluted air or ‘miasma’. In the mid 19th century, physician Ignaz Semmelweis discovered how microbial infection works and found that handwashing with soap dramatically reduced the spread of deadly diseases. In the 20th century, leaders have continued to pioneer hygiene including Elaine Larson, a nurse professor working globally to improve standards.

There is a global hygiene crisis

40% – or three billion people – of the global population live without basic handwashing facilities with soap and water available at home.  Further, one out of six health care facilities globally have no hygiene service, meaning they lack hand hygiene facilities at points of care, as well as soap and water at toilets. 1 in 10 patients get an avoidable infection while receiving care.

Handwashing is a lifesaver
Handwashing with soap is one of the most effective barriers to the spread of diseases. Around 297,000 children – more than 800 every day – under five die annually from diarrhoeal diseases due to poor hygiene, poor sanitation or unsafe drinking water.

Handwashing protects and empowers women and girls

Improving access to handwashing facilities in healthcare settings will reduce infection and mortality rates, particularly in maternal and child health.
Hygienic, private bathrooms with clean, running water, sinks and soap will help adolescent girls and female staff in schools and colleges manage menstruation safely and with dignity.
Expanding access to hand hygiene

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 includes a target to ensure everyone has access to ‘adequate and equitable’ hygiene by 2030. Progress towards that target will be measured by the proportion of population using safely managed sanitation services, including a hand-washing facility with soap and water. Standards also exist for healthcare. There should be facility-wide availability of alcohol hand rub at each point of care and a continuous supply of clean running water, soap and towels. 

Handwashing and hygiene are vital to sustainable development

Without handwashing and adherence to good hygiene practices, the health and socio-economic benefits of improved water supply and sanitation cannot be fully realised and will impede progress towards many of the SDGs.

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