Global Handwashing Day

Clean Hands for All

Global Handwashing Day

Global Handwashing Day (15 October) is a global advocacy day dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding about the importance of handwashing with soap as an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives. Global Handwashing Day is an opportunity to design, test, and replicate creative ways to encourage people to wash their hands at critical times.

The theme for Global Handwashing Day 2019 is clean hands for all. It aligns to the global focus to leave no one behind in the Sustainable Development Agenda. Inequalities in handwashing facilities and effective handwashing promotion programmes can put individuals at higher risk for diseases that impact their health, education, and economic outcomes.The theme reminds us that we must be inclusive when addressing handwashing disparities. No matter your role, you can celebrate Global Handwashing Day!


To understand what World Vision is thinking about inclusive handwashing, check out this piece on World Vision View: Handwashing needs three things, and a saviour isn't one of them.

As an individual, think about all the times you wash (or should wash) your hands during the day. Imagine what it might be like to try to wash your hands if you had some sort of physical impairment, or if you did not have access to soap and water where you needed to wash your hands. Keeping this in mind can make your more sensitive to what handwashing access means and will help you consider how you can support clean hands for all.

Use the excellent resources on the Global Handwashing Day website to engage on social media and even in live events in honour of Global Handwashing Day.

Check out this infographic from our friends at the Global Handwashing Partnership. (Download the infographic here.)

Global Handwashing Day Infographic

Handwashing facts based on the theme 'Clean Hands for All', excerpted from the Global Handwashing Day fact sheet:

'Clean Hands for All' means that people in all regions of all countries have access to basic handwashing facilities with soap and water.

The Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) run by UNICEF and WHO define a ‘basic handwashing facility’ as the ‘availability of a handwashing facility on the premises with soap and water’. Handwashing facilities can be ‘fixed’ or ‘mobile.’ ‘Fixed’ facilities include sinks with taps, buckets with taps, and tippy-taps, while ‘mobile’ facilities include jugs or basins designated for handwashing. The term soap includes bar soap, liquid soap, powder detergent, or soapy water.

  • Only 60% of the world’s population has access to a basic handwashing facility.
  • In the world’s least developed countries, only 28% of people have access to basic handwashing facilities. In some countries like Liberia, only 1% of the population has access to such facilities.
  • Currently, there are 17 countries where more than 10 million people lack handwashing facilities. The availability of soap and water at handwashing facilities varies substantially. For example, in Ethiopia, only 0.1% of households had soap and water at the handwashing facility while in Iraq, 91% had these items available.
  • Only 47% of basic handwashing facilities are ‘fixed’. People are much less likely to keep soap and water at ‘mobile’ handwashing facilities, and therefore, wash their hands less frequently.

It means that urban and rural populations have equal ability to practice handwashing with soap.

Geographic disparities often exist among rural and urban areas, with handwashing infrastructure lacking for many rural populations.

  • Currently, only 34% of people living in rural areas have access to a basic handwashing facility.In some countries like Tunisia, people in rural areas are 54% less likely than those in urban areas to have access to a basic handwashing facility.
  • People in rural areas are less likely to have access to soap and water. For example, people in rural areas of Sierra Leone are 24% less likely to have access to soap and 11% more likely to have insufficient water than those who live in urban areas.
  • There has not been progress on reducing the gap between urban and rural populations since data collection on handwashing started in 2012.

It means that vulnerable groups, such as older people and people with disabilities, have equal access to acceptable and appropriate handwashing facilities, and that they are equally involved in handwashing programming and promotion.

For vulnerable groups, it is particularly important that soap and water are kept at a handwashing facility, as it can be more challenging for them to access these materials independently.

  • Approximately 15% of the world’s population has a disability. For people with disabilities, accessing WASH facilities is often their most significant challenge of daily life.
  • When hygiene and sanitation facilities are not well adapted, people with disabilities must touch sanitation surfaces that others do not - putting them at greater risk for disease.
  • Between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world's population over 60 years will nearly double from 12% to 22%.

Handwashing facilities should be designed with the involvement of older people and people with disabilities. The WASH Accessibility and Safety Audit process is a participatory way to design sanitation and handwashing facilities. The compendium of accessible WASH technologies provides some guidance about the inclusivity of common handwashing designs.

It means that marginalized groups, including displaced and indigenous populations, have an equal ability to practice handwashing with soap.

Marginalized groups, such as displaced populations and indigenous groups, do not have equal access to handwashing facilities or soap. This makes them more susceptible to diarrheal diseases and other related illnesses.

  • In conflict-affected settings, children under the age of 5 years old are 20 times more likely to die from diarrhoea than they are from violence. This is, in part, due to insufficient functional handwashing facilities. In these circumstances, displaced individuals are often unable to buy their own soap or build their own facilities due to lack of finances and access to markets.
  • Crisis-affected populations are more likely to suffer from mental health issues. Studies have shown that when people are depressed, they are less able to wash their hands with soap at critical times.
  • Indigenous populations often do not have equal access to handwashing facilities or soap. This is because indigenous populations often live in geographically remote areas and are more likely to live in crowded or informal housing environments, making it hard to maintain facilities.
  • Indigenous populations are less likely to have full-time formal employment, making it more difficult to afford soap regularly.
  • Mainstream hygiene promotion may not be relevant to indigenous populations’ geographic and cultural differences.

It means that all children have access to handwashing facilities with soap at their schools.

Only 53% of the world’s schools provide ‘basic handwashing facilities’ for their students. This means that 900 million students currently have nowhere to wash their hands.

  • Access to basic handwashing facilities is typically higher in secondary schools than primary schools and higher in urban schools compared to rural schools.
  • As shown in Figure 2, many schools have handwashing facilities, but soap and water are frequently unavailable. In India, for example, 5% of schools report their main water source to be from students bringing their own water to school.

It means that all health workers and patients have access to handwashing facilities with soap at their health centers.

A ‘basic handwashing facility’ in a health care setting is defined as a ‘functional hand hygiene facility (with water and soap and/or alcohol-based hand rub available) at points of care, and within five meters of the toilet.’

  • In low- and middle-income countries, patients are exposed to rates of healthcare-associated infections (HCAIs) at least 2-fold higher than in high income settings. Hand hygiene is known to be a key factor in reducing healthcare-associated infections.
  • Globally, 57% of health care facilities have basic hand hygiene facilities at points of care.
  • Data from 54 low- and middle- income countries showed that 35% of health care facilities do not have water and soap available for handwashing.
  • There are inequities within countries and between levels of health care. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, 84% of hospitals had hand hygiene facilities at points of care, but among lower level health facilities, this fell to 64%.

Sources for the above facts can be found on the full fact sheet.

Learn more about the importance of hygiene and World Vision's approach.