Global Handwashing Day is the centrepiece of a week of activities that mobilizes millions of people worldwide to wash their hands with soap. First launched by the Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap (PPPHW) on 15 October 2008, Global Handwashing Day is now an annual event designed to raise awareness and foster the practice of hand washing with soap.
Hand washing with soap is among the most effective and inexpensive ways to prevent diarrhoeal diseases and pneumonia, which together are responsible for the majority of child deaths – an estimated 3.5 million children under five years of age per year. Despite the simplicity of the intervention and its health benefits, however, worldwide only relatively few people practise it.
The challenge is to change behaviour. Turning hand washing with soap into a habit could save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention, cutting deaths from diarrhoea by almost half and deaths from acute respiratory infections by one-quarter. Behaviour change should focus on so-called ‘critical moments’ for hand washing: after defecating, cleaning a child’s bottom, and before preparing food and eating.