United Nations | Xinhua | Although handwashing with soap is vital in the fight against infectious diseases, including COVID-19, billions of people around the world do not have ready access to a place to do it, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Thursday.
According to new UNICEF estimates, 40 percent of the world’s population, or 3 billion people, do not have a handwashing facility with water and soap at home. The number is much higher in the least developed countries, where nearly three-quarters go without.
Kelly Ann Naylor, associate director of water, sanitation and hygiene at UNICEF, said that it is “unacceptable” that the most vulnerable communities are unable to use the simplest of methods to protect themselves and their loved ones.
“The pandemic has highlighted the critical role of hand hygiene in disease prevention. It has also stressed a pre-existing problem for many: handwashing with soap remains out of reach for millions of children where they’re born, live and learn.”
“We must take immediate action to make handwashing with soap accessible to everyone, everywhere — now and in the future,” she said.
The situation is also alarming at schools: 43 percent globally (70 percent in the least developed countries) lack a handwashing facility with water and soap, affecting hundreds of millions of school-age children, according to the estimates.
Against this backdrop, UNICEF, along with the World Health Organization, launched the “Hand Hygiene for All” initiative to support the development of national roadmaps to accelerate and sustain progress toward making hand hygiene a mainstay in public health interventions.
This means rapidly improving access to handwashing facilities, water, soap and hand sanitizer in all settings, as well as promoting behavioral change interventions for optimal hand hygiene practices, said UNICEF.
The initiative brings together international, national, and local partners, to ensure affordable products and services are available and sustainable, especially in vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.
The estimates were released on Thursday, coinciding with the Global Handwashing Day, which serves as a platform to raise awareness on the importance of handwashing with soap.
Global Handwashing Day occurs on Oct. 15 each year. The global campaign is dedicated to raising awareness of handwashing with soap as a key factor in disease prevention.
Global Handwashing Day was initiated by the Global Handwashing Partnership in August 2008 at the annual World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden. This means that the first Global Handwashing Day took place on Oct. 15, 2008. The date was appointed by the UN General Assembly.