Posted by: Wasrag | August 31, 2010

Global Handwashing Day – October 15, 2010

The Best Way to Spend Twenty Seconds….

What’s the number one way to improve health in developing countries?  It’s one simple and inexpensive change in behavior – teaching people to wash their hands.

Handwashing Saves Lives

By promoting handwashing with soap, Rotarians can play a major part in preventing the diarrhea and acute respiratory infections that take the lives of millions of children in developing countries every year.  The majority of all child deaths are caused by these two killers.  If children and adults washed their hands at critical times (before preparing meals, eating, breastfeeding, and after using the toilet, helping a child use the toilet, or caring for domestic animals) deaths from diarrhea could be cut by half and deaths from acute respiratory infections by one-quarter (from the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap – see their useful handbook

Yet despite its potential to save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention, handwashing with soap is rarely practiced and even more rarely promoted.  By making handwashing a part of all Rotary water, sanitation, health and hygiene projects, Rotarians can save many lives and shine a spotlight on this critical but neglected area of public health.

Global Handwashing Day is October 15.

For Rotarians engaged in water, sanitation and health projects worldwide, this is your chance to cast a critical eye on the projects you support. Is handwashing with soap a key element of all your projects? If not, how can you introduce it in ways that are sensitive to the local culture, effective and sustainable?  Handwashing promotion has become standard policy in many countries, so your first step may be to liaise with the local health staff and tap into what they are already doing.  Engage health workers, local extension workers and water point committee members to spread the word and be good role models.

There are some great tools that can help you. The Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap – the folks that created Global Handwashing Day – have a new series of tools on their Global Handwashing Day website:  The theme this year is children and schools, and the Day aims to foster a global and local culture of handwashing with soap, highlight the state of handwashing in each country, and raise awareness of the benefits of handwashing with soap.  Other great tools are also available to help Rotarians to add WASH activities to their current program or to start a diarrhea reduction program – go to where you can send for a free WASH training package and find publications for WASH-friendly schools.

Handwashing is equally important in industrialized countries.  Nearly 22 million school days are lost due to the common cold alone, not to mention other diseases that are caused by bacteria and viruses. The School Network for Absenteeism Prevention (SNAP), supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has a toolkit and poster for schools.  See

All good education should start with our own behavior. Here’s some advice you can use to check your own handwashing technique – the best 20 seconds you can spend on your health!  Please note that this advice is tailored to developed countries – advice on adapting it to developing countries follows.

  • Wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap. Use warm water if it is available.
  • Rub hands together to make a lather and scrub all surfaces. Scrub both sides of your hands, between your fingers and underneath your fingernails.  Thorough cleaning generally takes about 15-20 seconds.
  • Rinse hands well under running water.
  • Dry your hands using a paper towel or air dryer. If possible, use your paper towel to turn off the faucet. If paper towels or an air dryer are not available, shake the water off your hands and let them air dry.  Don’t dry them on your clothes or a cloth that has been used multiple times.
  • If soap and clean water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub to clean your hands.

Tippy Taps in Madagascar (USAID)

In developing countries, running water may not be available but the water used should be clean and poured over soapy hands.  If water is scarce there are appropriate solutions like tippy-taps, which use much less water and are inexpensive to make.  Mud or ash is sometimes used if soap is unavailable.  Hand washing facilities should be located close to latrines.

By promoting handwashing, we Rotarians can make a difference in our own families and communities and in service projects around the world.

Let’s make sure we never forget the 20 seconds that can save a life!



  1. Please don’t forget to inform all that when using running water to wet your hands before soaping, please close the tap and don’t let the water run while you are scrubbing the hands.

  2. Dear sir,
    Am so impressed reading on how much live can be saved
    By just cultivating regular handwashing
    No doubth as a wasrag member in nigeria it is my duty to spread the news as much as posible

    Kehinde bello

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