WaterAid East Africa calls on national and regional leaders to prioritise costed hand hygiene strategies and make hand hygiene facilities available to all

WaterAid East Africa calls on national and regional leaders to prioritise costed hand hygiene strategies and make hand hygiene facilities available to all

As the world commemorates Global Handwashing Day on 15 October 2022, WaterAid East Africa is calling on leaders across the region to develop and operationalise a costed context-specific national hand hygiene strategy.

This is described as critical in scaling up current investments in hand hygiene, improving hygiene behaviours and reaching everyone, everywhere with inclusive, accessible and functional handwashing facilities.

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The theme for this year’s Global Handwashing Day, Unite for Universal Hand Hygiene, demands joint action from all stakeholders, especially governments at all levels in accelerating universal access to hand hygiene.

The Regional Director, WaterAid East Africa, Olutayo Bankole-Bolawole said, “Development of fully-funded national strategy on hand hygiene is a critical first step for countries in scaling up hygiene and achieving a culture shift in handwashing practices at household and community levels. If the hygiene targets captured under the Sustainable Development Goal 6, are to be achieved, there is a need to increase current efforts and investments four-folds, with attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.

“As the world copes with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, lessons on the importance of handwashing in controlling the spread of infectious diseases must be sustained to prevent communities from future disease outbreaks. In East Africa, infectious diseases place a huge burden on fragile health systems, with some countries witnessing a resurgence of Ebola virus and monkey pox over the past month. It is also important to note that without functional handwashing facilities and access to water, public health facilities become hotbeds for infections, with both patients and caregivers risking their lives. Yet, only half of health centres globally, have handwashing facilities with soap and water”.

According to WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (JMP) 2020, only 30% of East Africa population have access to basic hygiene.

Disaggregated by country, this shows Rwanda has 5%, Ethiopia -8%, Uganda -23%, Kenya -27% and Tanzania at 48%. Globally, 3 out of 10 people – 2.3 billion– still lack soap and water for handwashing at home. This leaves people at increased risk of disease because they cannot wash their hands.

Beyond this, it is estimated that half a million people die each year from diarrhoea or acute respiratory infections that could have been prevented with good hand hygiene. Handwashing with soap alone can reduce diarrhoea by up to 48%, thereby saving the lives of people, particularly children below the age of five.

Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 26.1m people with good hygiene through better facilities and hygiene behaviour change programme. We have also reached 181m people through our hygiene response to COVID-19 through our mass media awareness-raising.

In East Africa, WaterAid has been working across the region to improve access to hand hygiene through our cross-border interventions and programmes in four East African countries. We remain committed to increasing the momentum and working with partners to ensure universal access not only for hygiene services but sustainable clean water and decent sanitation facilities.

This Global Handwashing Day, WaterAid East Africa is joining stakeholders worldwide to again demand for commitment to the global goal as we all #UniteforUniversalHandHygiene.

Access to water, sanitation and hygiene services is a fundamental human right and we must ensure no one is left behind.

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