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Hand Washing: So Important, It Gets a Day Of Its Own

Wednesday is Global Handwashing Day, an event designed to promote the use of soap in developing countries. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Wednesday, October fifteenth, is the first Global Handwashing Day. Activities are planned in more than twenty countries to get millions of people in the developing world to wash their hands with soap.

For example, private donors will give one hundred fifty thousand bars of soap to schools in Ethiopia. The Education Ministry wants one million schoolchildren to wash their hands for Wednesday's event.

Experts say people around the world wash their hands but very few use soap at so-called critical moments. These include after using the toilet, after cleaning a baby and before touching food.

Global Handwashing Day is the idea of the Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap. Partners include the United Nations Children's Fund, American government agencies, the World Bank and soap makers Unilever and Procter and Gamble. The goal, they say, is to create a culture of hand washing with soap.

The organizers say all soaps are equally effective at removing disease-causing germs. They say the correct way to wash is to wet your hands with a small amount of water and cover them with soap. Rub it into all areas, including under the fingernails. Rub for at least twenty seconds.

Then, rinse well under running water. Finally, dry your hands with a clean cloth or wave them in the air.

The Partnership for Handwashing says soap is important because it increases the time that people spend washing. Soap also helps to break up the grease and dirt that hold most of the germs. And it usually leaves a pleasant smell, which increases the likelihood that people will wash again.

The partnership says washing with soap before eating and after using the toilet could save more lives than any vaccine or medicine. It could help reduce cases of diarrhea by almost half. And it could reduce deaths from pneumonia and other breathing infections by one-fourth.

Diarrhea is the second leading cause of child deaths, killing more than one and a half million children a year. Pneumonia is the leading cause, killing about two million children under five each year. Hand washing can also prevent the spread of other diseases.

When people get germs on their hands, they can infect themselves by touching their eyes, nose or mouth. Then they can infect others.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. For a link to a Handwashing Handbook in English, Spanish, French and Swahili, go to I'm Steve Ember.