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Accelerating hand hygiene: A government leadership meeting

Accelerating Hand Hygiene: A Government Leadership Meeting

  • On 6 July 2021 over 80 people in 35 countries joined a virtual meeting to hear from national leaders on how governments are advancing hand hygiene.

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Global Handwashing Partnership
The Global Handwashing Partnership works to save children's lives and improve health by promoting handwashing with soap.
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Convened by the Hand Hygiene for All initiative (HH4A) initiative on its one-year anniversary, the Accelerating Hand Hygiene webinar highlighted the significant steps countries are taking to ensure hand hygiene is a sustained public health practice long after the current COVID-19 crisis ends. The event shared results from five countries around the world and highlighted the practical steps taken in advancing hand hygiene.

As one of the most cost-effective ways to prevent a whole range of infectious diseases, including respiratory and diarrheal diseases, hand hygiene is a demonstrated no-regrets investment. An OECD study of high-income countries reports that US$1 invested in hand hygiene in healthcare facilities may bring a US$15 return in health expenditure alone. Over the past five years, 300,000 people per day gained access to basic handwashing facilities. That’s half a billion people. And yet – as the latest JMP report shows – rates continue to drag. At the current rate of progress, almost two billion people will lack access to basic handwashing facilities in 2030.

Right now, the sector has an opportunity. COVID-19 brings unprecedented attention upon hand hygiene, with increases in government champions, resources, and sector commitment. The HH4A initiative supports governments develop concrete plans to advance hand hygiene. Today, over 35 countries are engaged in strengthening hand hygiene policies and strategies.

Under the chairmanship of Mr. Kitchinme Bawa, Sanitation Project Manager for AMCOW, the event featured participation from a distinguished group of sector leaders:

  • Kelly Ann Naylor, Director, WASH, UNICEF
  • Sunil Kumar Das, Joint Secretary, MoWS, Nepal
  • Ana Paula Cardoso, Head, Dept of Environmental Health, MoH, Mozambique
  • Beverley Ho, Concurrent Director IV, Health Promotion Bureau & Disease Prevention and Control Bureau (MoH), Philippines
  • Yemisi Akpa, Chief Scientific Officer, Water Quality Control and Sanitation Department, (MoH), Nigeria
  • Ehab Attia, General Manager, Infection Control, (MoH), Egypt
  • Maria Neira, Director, ECH, WHO

The participants shared their experiences, opportunities and challenges in strengthening hand hygiene programs. In Nepal, the government is leading preparation of a national, inter-sectoral hand hygiene roadmap, scheduled for launch on Global Handwashing Day 2021. The Philippines included environmental health (including hand hygiene) as one of seven priority areas for public health promotion. The government developed a hand hygiene playbook and strengthened its adoption through municipal ordinances. The Ministry of Health in Mozambique leads the mobilization of cross-ministerial support for the development of a hand hygiene. Plans going forward are to engage through a multi-sectoral meeting the necessary stakeholders around development of a national roadmap to achieve universal hand hygiene and allocating the necessary resources.

In Nigeria, the development of a national hygiene strategy in 2016 helped mitigate the COVID-19 outbreak. COVID-19 shines a spotlight on the importance of hand hygiene, and the increased urgency resulted in the availability of hand hygiene facilities at entrance and exit of all public buildings. Additionally, a national coordinating platform was established to deal with hygiene issues. In Egypt, the outbreak brought grater orientation of the general public towards hand hygiene, especially in health care settings.

Looking forward, there are regional opportunities to strengthen hand hygiene. The African Sanitation Policy Guidance (ASPG) covers hand hygiene and behaviour change and underscores the need to talk about hand hygiene in the context of other behaviour or as a standalone policy. And there is the potential to expand the ASPG to other continents – we can build on the history of intercontinental learning and exchange.

Through all these discussions, it was clear that political leadership is central to achieving – and maintaining – hand hygiene gains. Now the opportunity lies in ensuring that the political will sparked by the COVID-19 outbreak results in sustained hand hygiene actions.

View the event presentations here.

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