You know those signs in restaurant bathrooms telling employees to wash their hands? Personally, I think that handwashing before returning to work, especially to handle food, would be a given. But for many people, it’s not. This is especially true for people in developing countries where access to clean water and adequate sanitation is scarce.

If people don’t wash their hands they can get super sick and then spread these illnesses to other people, hence the bathroom reminders that we constantly see here in the United States. In fact, contaminated hands are a common way to spread illnesses like pneumonia and diarrhea, which are the leading infectious causes of child deaths worldwide. About 2 million children lose their lives to these preventable illnesses each year.

Handwashing with soap is a low-cost and highly effective way to protect children from the most common causes of child death. Poor hygiene, lack of access to sanitation and unsafe drinking water are together responsible for 88% of diarrheal disease infections. BUT - if all communities practiced universal handwashing, diarrhea risk would drop by nearly half.

What’s more, when implemented correctly, sanitation can reduce diarrheal disease by 36%. This is huge if we consider the fact that diarrhea takes the lives of more than 1,500 children each day and 600,000 every year. It is among the leading killers of children under 5 along with pneumonia and preterm birth complications, especially in Africa and Asia.

Handwashing is so important in our quest to provide the world with clean water and proper sanitation. Hygiene is included alongside sanitation in Target 6.2 of the current draft of the Global Goals, but hygiene is neglected at the indicator level. This means that hygiene would not be measured globally, the target to improve hygiene would not be monitored and the Global Goals might not improve hygiene as much as they could.

If a hygiene indicator is included, then we can measure how many people are being reached with access to proper hygiene and how effective certain measures are. If they are not as successful as intended, we can develop ways for them to be improved based on results yielded from the indicator. So many other goals are accompanied by an indicator, and it is time that hygiene is accounted for as well.

Last week, thousands of people convened in Stockholm, Sweden for the annual World Water Week—a week-long conference designed to foster new thinking and develop solutions to the most pressing water and sanitation-related challenges of today. Events like World Water Week are so important in our efforts to make Goal 6 famous and to ensure that hygiene and handwashing are a priority in the post-2015 era.

Just like World Water Week, the Global Citizen Festival this year will highlight the importance of hygiene and handwashing as it impacts children, girls and women.

If you believe in the importance of these issues,TAKE ACTION NOW to ensure that sanitation is included on the global agenda!


Defeat Poverty

Handwashing With Soap And Water Can Save Children’s Lives

By Murphy McAnulty