UNICEF joins the world to emphasize handwashing with soap as a simple, effective, and cost-efficient means to prevent diseases and save lives, beyond Global Handwashing Day.
This year’s Global Handwashing Day theme, “Clean Hands are Within Reach,” underlines the need to address hand hygiene on a systemic level. While significant progress has been made, there is a growing call to redouble efforts in order to meet global targets. This effort goes beyond promoting individual handwashing behaviors; it calls for creating an environment that fosters the expansion of hand hygiene practices within local systems.
Global Handwashing Day stands as a global advocacy day, inspiring and mobilizing millions worldwide to embrace the habit of washing their hands with soap – a practice that can easily prevent diseases and save lives.
Recent global estimates reveal that approximately three billion people, or 40% of the world’s population, lack access to proper handwashing facilities with soap and water in their homes. Alarmingly, seven out of ten schools in the least developed countries do not have these facilities for children.
In Sierra Leone, the WASH National Outcome Routine Mapping of 2022 assessed the availability of hygiene services in households, particularly the presence of handwashing facilities with soap and water. The results showed that only 11.6% of households nationwide have access to basic hygiene services, with a slight disparity between urban (16.0%) and rural (9.5%) areas. Approximately 13.5% of households have limited access to such services.
Despite a high awareness rate (92.5%) of the critical times for handwashing, this knowledge often does not translate into practice. A mere 9.6% of household heads were able to demonstrate proper handwashing techniques. It is clear that households understand the importance of handwashing before eating (89.4%) and after using the toilet (94.7%), but only 31.0% consider handwashing after cleaning up a child’s feces or changing a child’s diaper as essential. Additionally, only 53.4% practice handwashing before preparing food.
It is crucial to address the gap between knowledge and practice as this contributes to a high burden of diarrhea. Shockingly, 14.8% of households reported at least one member suffering from diarrhea in the two weeks preceding the survey, with children under five accounting for 69.7% of cases.
“Handwashing is not merely a routine. It is a lifesaving practice,” says Bioye Ogunjobi, UNICEF WASH Specialist. “Together, by promoting a culture of handwashing, we can create a healthier, safer, and more resilient Sierra Leone for every child.”
To create public awareness of the importance of handwashing efforts have also been made to promote the following:
* Proper handwashing with soap at critical times
* Construction and use of improved toilets
* Provision of WASH facilities in schools, communities, and institutions
* Safe water storage and utilization at the household level
* Community participation and empowerment
With support from partners including the Iceland government and FCDO, UNICEF has also facilitated the provision of WASH facilities in schools, health facilities, and communities across Sierra Leone. These facilities help make safe water readily available to over 500,000 people to facilitate handwashing.
UNICEF remains committed to the continued promotion of simple hand hygiene practices to help prevent disease outbreaks like cholera and significantly reduce associated morbidity and mortality rates.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of UNICEF Sierra Leone.