Poor compliance with handwashing-with-soap guidelines and recommendations is observed all around the world.
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine study involving 250 000 participants concluded that only 32% of men washed their hands with soup after using the toilets in comparison with 64% of women who did the same.
A study conducted by WHO in 55 hospitals in 14 countries of Europe, Eastern Mediterranean, South-East Asia and Western Pacific showed an average of 8.7% hospital patients had hospital-acquired infections; CDC estimates that percentage to be in the United States between 5% and 15%, i.e., approximately two million infections, with 90 000 deaths, and $4.5 billion in excess costs annually.
In the developing countries, soap is mainly used for washing clothes, bathing or washing dishes. The Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap reports that less than 20 percent of population in these countries practice handwashing with soap, and hygiene education and promotion is now one of the key strategies to improve health and wellness.
Over a million of people and millions of children die every year of respiratory infections and diarrhea caused by poor hygiene. And yet the deaths can easily be prevented by simply washing the hands with soap. The habit could easily cut the deaths caused by diarrhea in half and the deaths caused by respiratory infections by one quarter.
Soap is the most affordable and the most cost-effective measure for prevention of infection. According to UNICEF, diarrhea is the second leading cause of death among children under five years old, with more than 1.5 million dying every year. Good hygiene and promotion of handwashing can reduce cases by up to 45%.
Washing hands with soap reduces the incidence of other diseases considerably as well, among them Avian Influenza, H1N1 flu, pneumonia, trachoma, scabies, malnutrition, eye and skin infections, cholera and dysentery.
The research study conducted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine confirms that making handwashing with soap a worldwide habit remains a challenge. The health benefit factor alone is not enough for change of behavior. The combination of the disgust factor, the good-parent factor, the peer-pressure factor, and the being-observed factor renders far better results.
Handwashing benefits go beyond health. The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap is reporting that because of diarrhea hundreds of millions of school days are lost every year and that hand-washing with soap could reduce absenteeism by 42%.
Over 80 countries participated in the Global Handwashing Day on October 15, 2009. In Mali, UNICEF invited 10 000 children to the stadium providing them with water bowls and soap for a record-breaking event of all of them washing their hands simultaneously. A dance choreographed in Japan showed children how to wash hands in 20 seconds, palms, wrists, fingers and nails.
According to UNICEF, over 200 million children worldwide have participated last year in the public soap handwashing events, with celebrity appearances, contests and photo exhibits.
In 2004, the World Alliance for Patient Safety was launched to advance safe healthcare practices and to reduce hospital-acquired infections.
WHO is reporting that handwashing-with-soap campaigns are more effective in the short than in the long term. Though handwashing saves lives, poor hygiene still wins.
Sources: The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, WHO, CDC, UNICEF, The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap and globalhandwashing.org