Simple handwashing with soap can cut hundreds of thousands of deaths a year: UN

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Millions of children Tuesday took part in the sixth annual United Nations (UN)-backed “Global Handwashing Day”, driving home the message that the simple use of soap and water could slash highly preventable diarrheal diseases that kill 1,400 children under five every day.

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“Washing hands before eating and after defecation drastically reduces the spread of diarrheal disease and has far reaching effects on the health and welfare of children and communities,” the global head of the UN’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programs, Sanjay Wijesekera, said in a message marking the Day, whose theme this year is “The Power Is in our Hands.”

“The simple act of handwashing with soap is one of the most effective ways to save children’s lives.”In Ethiopia, some five million children participated in handwashing demonstrations and workshops around the country.

In Yemen, “Global Handwashing Day” celebrations took place in 3,300 schools, involving 1.4 million children. There is also a mass media campaign aimed at sensitizing the public around handwashing.

One thousand schools in Vietnam; 450 primary schools in Sierra Leone and 424 in Mali; 200 schools in 50 communities in the Gambia; 12 cities in Indonesia and 22 educational institutions in several municipalities in Bolivia held “Global Hand Washing Day” activities.

According to UNICEF, diarrhea remains the second largest cause of under-five mortality globally. Some 600,000 children die each year from diarrheal diseases caused by a lack of safe water, sanitation and basic hygiene out of a total of over 1.7 billion cases.

These diseases are also associated with a higher risk of stunting, as shown by low weight for age and developmental delay, and they take a huge toll on society. However, one of the simplest and most inexpensive barriers to infection is handwashing with soap.

“The evidence is clear. Each individual – every mother, every child, every teacher, every member of every community – can contribute to the health of all by just washing their hands,” Wijesekera said.

“If you knew of something monumental that could benefit the world, you would do it. Everyone has this power – simply wet, lather and rinse with soap and water.” PNA

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