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Global Handwashing Day 2022: unite for universal hand hygiene

If you catch a cold, you're likely to have been exposed to an infected person, or you've touched a surface that they’ve contaminated. Viruses are easily transmitted – particularly when germs can linger on surfaces for days. Your hands take the brunt of this. Not only do you use them to eat, touch, hold and carry things, and scratch or clean yourself, but they’re also the part of the body most exposed to germs and substances in your environment. If you touch an infected surface with your hands and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth, you can transfer germs into your body where they can make you unwell.

Thankfully, good hygiene can reduce the likelihood of illnesses spread by hands. Handwashing with soap is the most effective way to reduce germ transmission and prevent the spread of diseases that pose continuous challenges to our health and development. For instance, a study found that regular handwashing with soap can reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 infection by 36%.

Though the benefits of handwashing are widely proven, only 62% of people always wash their hands when using a public toilet1. The impact of poor hand hygiene like this will vary around the globe, but it’s clear that we all have more work to do to raise awareness. That’s why Initial is proud to raise awareness of Global Handwashing Day 2022 – working to improve handwashing around the world.


Why do we celebrate Global Handwashing Day?

global hand washing day 2021

Global Handwashing Day is an advocacy day that provides an opportunity each year to highlight the importance of handwashing with soap for the health, safety and protection of people all over the world. The day aims to spread the word about good hand hygiene to communities, advocates and leaders to help build awareness and promote the need for better hygiene habits and facilities globally. 

The first Global Handwashing Day was launched in October 2008, reaching 120 million children in 73 countries across five continents. Since that successful introduction, Global Handwashing Day has gone from strength to strength. Last year, over two billion people from countries all over the world were involved in virtual or in-person events and mass media campaigns. 

Global Handwashing Day 2021 saw many success stories. For example, Lifebuoy and Sesame Street teamed up to create the world’s largest virtual classroom and taught the importance of handwashing to children, the Great Wall of China lit up to celebrate Global Handwashing Day when Procter & Gamble partnered up with, and over 50 new hand hygiene commitments were made by country ministers, private sector executives and community leaders.

Even so, on the world's current trajectory, 1.9 billion people in 2030 will still lack facilities to wash their hands at home. As we emerge from the pandemic, it's never been so clear that more needs to be done. The world is paying more attention to how germs are spread and Global Handwashing Day and its advocates want to increase the momentum of change to achieve hand hygiene equality for all. This year, they're asking everyone to #UniteforUniversalHandHygiene


What does it mean to unite for universal hand hygiene?

Hand washing steps

Even when people are more informed on the risks associated with poor hand hygiene, there remains a global disparity in access to hand hygiene facilities. If an estimated 2.3 billion people cannot wash their hands with soap and water at home, how can we protect public health?

In October 2021, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) partnered to release the State of the World’s Hand Hygiene report. In this report, they assessed the world’s progress on Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) – the call for the global community to achieve access to hygiene for all by 2030 – and suggested a pathway to achieve it. Their research also revealed global inequalities regarding hand hygiene. Some key findings include the following. 

  • 670 million people have no handwashing facility at all in their homes.
  • A third of health facilities lack hand hygiene resources at the point of care.
  • Nearly half of schools worldwide don't have basic hygiene services. 
  • If progress continues at its current rate, by 2030, the world will have reached only 78% coverage of basic hygiene services and we won’t achieve SDG 6.

The need for change is clear, so Global Handwashing Day 2022 focuses on the world’s collective responsibility to improve access to hand hygiene facilities. 

To do this, Global Handwashing Day is encouraging communities and organisations to advocate to governments and decision-makers that there should be more funding and resources for hand hygiene. To achieve SDG 6, they believe governments, donors, researchers and businesses need to work together. Global Handwashing Day also urge how action is needed from individual countries, suggesting that they should set ‘national coverage targets’ aligned to SDG 6 and create hygiene roadmaps that give a clear vision of how they will achieve hand hygiene for all


How have attitudes towards hand hygiene changed?

reset hygiene report

During the COVID-19 pandemic, hand hygiene received unprecedented attention, and handwashing became one of the most important and cost-effective methods to keep yourself and others safe. Subsequently, opinions around hand hygiene have changed. People no longer wash their hands just to keep them clean and remove dirt. Instead, handwashing is now an essential health precaution to reduce germ transmission. 

At Initial, we’ve recently examined the global shifts in societal behaviour towards hygiene. A total of 20,000 respondents across 20 countries took part in a survey that examined the impact of hygiene attitudes and practices on wellbeing, employee and organisational expectations, and hygiene responsibilities.  

The Global Hygiene Reset report revealed that not only have attitudes shifted but so have expectations. 74% of people are now more* concerned that other people’s poor hand hygiene could put their health at risk, suggesting that hand hygiene is no longer viewed as an individual choice but should instead be part of a collective responsibility to keep each other safe.  

Additionally, with a greater understanding of how germs spread, 71% of people are now more* fearful of germs transmission via surfaces in public spaces. So, to reduce risk, people are adopting new behaviours to protect themselves and others. It seems, for many, that these habits are long-term, with 66% of people saying that they wash their hands more* now to protect themselves from common viruses and that they intend to maintain this going forwards.

Sanitising hands is another habit that is here to stay. Regardless of whether handwashing facilities are available, 58% of respondents will use hand sanitiser in the future to protect against common viruses. In the workplace, this percentage increases, with 61% of people working in shared spaces stating that they’re now likely to sanitise their hands regularly at work to manage hygiene risks.

Noticeably, people are more aware of the risks of poor hand hygiene and want reassurance that others are taking measures to protect those around them. If businesses want to help their workforces and customers feel safe and protected, they must provide necessary facilities, promote handwashing practices and enable a culture of good hand hygiene.


*than before the COVID-19 pandemic


Find out more about Global Handwashing Day and access resources to help support the day

1 Initial, The Global Hygiene Reset, 2021

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