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Initiative led by UNICEF and WHO calls for universal access to hand hygiene

  • Initiative led by UNICEF and WHO calls for universal access to hand hygiene
    © UNICEF/Keïta

“The global response to COVID-19 cannot succeed without effective hand hygiene”; this is the categorical message of the Hand Hygiene for All Initiative (HH4A). Started in June of last year, and led by UNICEF and WHO with many international partners, the objective of the initiative is to accelerate progress towards hand hygiene for all by 2030.

The HH4A initiative supports vulnerable communities to protect their health, including against COVID-19. It recognises that improving hand hygiene practices to prevent disease transmission does not only entail expanding access through water supply infrastructure, but also to make supplies such as soap and alcohol-based handrub available and affordable. Moreover, individual behaviours must change so that handwashing becomes and integral part of our daily lives.

Currently 3 billion people, about 40% of the world’s population, cannot wash their hands with water and soap at their homes. Handwashing facilities are also lacking in nearly half of all schools, affecting 900 million children. And 43% of health care settings lack hand hygiene facilities at points of care.

And yet, hand hygiene is one of the most cost-effective ways to improve health, essential to human dignity. In fact, the OECD estimates that improved hand hygiene can generate savings in health expenditure that represent, depending on the country, on average 15 times the implementation costs.

The current pandemic reminds us that one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of disease is and has long been very simple: hand hygiene. Universal access to hand hygiene is not only key to stop the spread of COVID-19 now, it also protects from a range of other infectious diseases, including the flu, diarrhoea and pneumonia, and will help prevent disease and death due to antimicrobial resistance, a growing problem with the potential for enormous health and economic consequences globally.

The Hand Hygiene for All Progress Report 2020 highlights the achievements to date, including national and regional efforts. HH4A brings together partners around a shared vision and a joint plan, with four key elements: access to hand hygiene products and services, innovative behaviour change strategies, creating an enabling environment, and political will and leadership to drive it.

The current health crisis is an opportunity to enhance infection prevention and control efforts, so they can outlast the current pandemic and endure into the future. A future according to the vision of the Hand Hygiene for All initiative “where all communities and workplaces have the resources and are able to practice hand hygiene, and everyone does so habitually”. 

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