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Global Handwashing Day

Global Handwashing Day

Did you eat a meal on Monday? Did you go to the bathroom? Did you, like a friend of mine, accidentally super glue your fingers together? Though you may not have realized it you probably (hopefully) joined 200 million people in an important international holiday. Monday, October 15th was the fourth annual Global Handwashing Day.

For most people in the United States and in the so-called “developed world,” washing your hands is something so simple, so routine, that one hardly even thinks about it. Yet this supremely quotidian behavior might just be the key to making significant strides in the global health crisis – especially for the health of children.

According to the Partnership For Handwashing “a single gram of human feces can contain 10 million viruses and one million bacteria.” While we may not want to think about this, interpersonal fecal contact is a primary method for the transmission of diseases like diarrhea, typhoid, cholera, the flu and pneumonia. Studies have shown that “children living in households exposed to handwashing promotion and soap had half the diarrheal rates of children living in control neighborhoods.” And considering that diarrhea is the second leading killer of children world-wide, this is a huge deal.

Furthermore handwashing is easy and cheap. The Partnership for Handwashing calls it the “single most cost effective intervention” in children’s health issues. It keeps kids in school who might otherwise be sick. It keeps kids alive. Part of the fight for handwashing means making sure people have access to clean water and part of it just means making sure people know the facts about its benefits.

Many religions have ritual washing traditions, and Judaism even has a specific commandment to wash one’s hands. Before eating bread, many Jews take a moment to wash their hands. While this ritual has a host of symbolic meanings, it is also simply a way to put some kavanah (some thought or intention) into the mundane yet irreplaceable act of washing one’s hands.


Image courtesy of Corrina Regnier

Published: 10/17/2012

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