SUVA, FIJI. 15 October 2015 – Hand washing with soap is a lifesaving but often ignored health measure in the Pacific that can help the region achieve the new Global Goals for Sustainable Development says UNICEF.

As countries around the world marked Global Handwashing Day, UNICEF Pacific Representative Dr. Karen Allen said, “In the Pacific region, we have ample evidence that washing hands with soap and water after being outside, after using the toilet and before handling food, can save lives and produce healthier children and communities.

“If children are supported through school, family and community-led programmes to routinely wash their hands from an early age, they will establish healthy habits that will help to protect them from illness and disease for life. Children can also be powerful agents of change in their own families and communities, supporting others to adopt hand washing as a healthy habit.”

The eighth Global Handwashing Day comes less than a month after the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, which include hygiene for the first time in the global agenda. One of the new targets is to achieve ‘access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene’ by 2030.

UNICEF says improvements in hygiene must supplement access to water and sanitation, or children will continue to fall victim to easily preventable diseases like diarrhoea. “Diarrhoea can be a killer disease” said Dr. Allen. “It particularly affects the most vulnerable groups in any community, including the youngest, oldest and pregnant women. Along with drinking water and access to toilets, hygiene – especially handwashing with soap – is key to health.

“From birth – when the unwashed hands of birth attendants can transmit dangerous pathogens – right through childhood, school and beyond, handwashing is crucial for a child’s health. It is one of the cheapest, simplest and most effective health interventions we have. Even where there are water shortages, communities should prioritise saving water for handwashing. It can also be tempting to save soap just for washing clothes and not hands, but saving soap can risk lives.”

According to the UN’s latest estimates, over 800 of the approximately 1,400 global child deaths from diarrhoea each day can be attributed to inadequate water, sanitation or hygiene. Infants in the first month of life are particularly vulnerable to diseases transmitted by unwashed hands.

Countries around the world will mark Global Handwashing Day through activities designed to teach the importance of handwashing with soap. In Kiribati, every one of the country’s 94 Primary Schools, 24 Junior Secondary Schools and 16 Senior Secondary Schools will take part in group hand washing activities. Students will design posters and banners, and promote handwashing in marches, song, dancing, drama, speech, poems and art.