Global Handwashing Day 2012

Hand washing with soap is one of the easiest tasks a child can learn. It’s also one of the most important.

Every year, more than two million children lose their lives to preventable illnesses such as diarrhea and pneumonia - many of which could be prevented simply through washing hands at critical times. Today, Global Handwashing Day, is an occasion to remind us of the importance of this simple public health intervention.

PSI and Unilever Join Forces to Improve Hand Washing in Schools

Although many people around the world wash their hands with water, very few wash their hands with soap at critical moments – such as after using the toilet, while cleaning a child, and before handling food. If hand washing with soap became a standard practice, health experts estimate that deaths from diarrhea could be reduced by one half and one in four deaths from acute respiratory infections would be averted.

This year, a new initiative launched between Lifebuoy (Unilever’s leading soap brand), PSI (one of the Unilever Foundation's global partners) and local governments is focusing on establishing behavior change programs in schools and communities across Kenya, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe – three countries where handwashing with soap practices are low. In Kenya, for example, 28 percent of school children report washing their hands with water at key times during the day, yet only 1 percent report using soap.

The new Unilever-PSI initiative will help children get into a habit of correctly and consistently washing their hands with soap at critical times of the day. Using Lifebuoy soap products and communication materials, teachers and community health workers will work to change behaviors among school aged kids through handwashing programs and activities, such as song writing, comic books, and even hand washing pledges. We know that when children learn and understand healthy behaviors, they help pass life-saving information to their families at home and future generations – setting off a powerful ripple effect.

Together PSI and Unilever aim to reach more than 250,000 school aged children and their families in Kenya, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe over the next year. Through these three pilot programs, Lifebuoy, the Unilever Foundation, and PSI hope to prove the efficacy of this approach, and replicate the program at scale across a number of countries.

Join the conversation with Unilever, PSI, and its partners at #IWashMyHands as we launch a worldwide dialogue to push handwashing up the global health agenda. Weigh in on Twitter, make a pledge on Facebook – and spread the word.

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Health Areas: Child Survival, Diarrheal Disease