Changing Seasons Changing Habits

Global Handwashing Day: A Cause for Celebration for All

Hanna Woodburn


By Hanna Woodburn

Secretariat Director, Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing

It’s mid-October. And, while for many, this statement might conjure up images of football season, pumpkin carving and crunchy leaves, for us—and millions of others around the world—it’s a time to mark Global Handwashing Day.

October 15, Global Handwashing Day, is an opportunity for individuals, communities and organizations to celebrate the power of hygiene to save and improve lives around the world. It aims to foster and support a culture of handwashing with soap, shine a spotlight on the state of handwashing around the world, and raise awareness about the benefits of this important public health issue.

Good hand hygiene might seem basic. And it is—it can be done by anyone with a few supplies, such as clean water and soap. But, don’t let that fool you. Handwashing with soap is the hidden workhorse of public health. It prevents diarrhea and pneumonia, which are the biggest cause of childhood death globally, protects against influenza, and can even contribute to improved nutrition. These health benefits can in turn reduce student and worker absenteeism, thus having a real economic impact, too.

In 2014, results of a project known as the Hospital Associated Infections (HAI) Prevalence Survey were published. The Survey described the burden of HAIs in U.S. hospitals, and reported that, in 2011, there were an estimated 722,000 HAIs in U.S. acute care hospitals.  These can also be prevented by improved hygiene. Healthcare workers, like most of us, know that hygiene is essential for wellness. But, busy schedules and stressful situations can push this important behavior to the sidelines. A good hand hygiene habit can help mitigate this oversight. Habits must be built over time, but available supplies in key locations can help trigger the behavior.

Rightfully, hand hygiene is taking a more prominent place on the global agenda. Just a few weeks ago, world leaders met in New York City to address growing concerns around antimicrobial resistance. Each year in the United States alone, approximately two million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these types of infections. Prevention in the face of antimicrobial resistance is key. Hand hygiene is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of illness-causing germs and can help to prevent infections, and subsequently a need for antibiotics, in the first place. As, Joe Kanfer, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of GOJO, has said, “A primary prevention approach to reduce the need for antibiotics is effective hand hygiene.”

So, this October 15, we call upon you to join us. Celebrate the impact hygiene can have in your community and around the world. The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing, which founded Global Handwashing Day in 2008, has a range of resources and information available at www.globalhandwashingday.org.

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