Updated: Monday 18 June 2007

Background on the Importance of Hand Washing with Soap

Diarrhea and respiratory infection are two of the top three causes of child mortality worldwide. According to UNICEF, together they cause 67% of the four million deaths among children under age five. Hand washing with soap, when done properly and at critical times, is an effective way to prevent diarrheal diseases and respiratory infection. Although a large part of the world’s population wash their hands with water, only a small percentage use soap, and/or wash at the critical times to interrupt disease transmission. Hand washing is a high-impact, low-cost intervention with broad potential for application worldwide, either as a stand-alone program (such as through the Public Partnership for Hand Washing with Soap http://www.globalhandwashing.org) or as a component of an integrated health program. Hand washing promotion is cost-effective when compared with other frequently funded health interventions. It can also maximize the health benefits of investments in water supply and sanitation infrastructure and reduce health risks when families do not have access to basic sanitation and water supply services.