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More than 5,000 children every day or 1.7 million children every year die from diarrheal diseases before the age of five. Diarrhoea is the second most common cause of death in children accounting for 18 per cent of all under-five deaths (The State of the World’s Children, UNICEF 2008).

Handwashing at critical times - including before eating or preparing food and after using the toilet - can reduce diarrhoea rates among children under 5 by almost 50 per cent (Curtis, V., and S. Cairncross. 2003).

Handwashing with soap can reduce the incidence of acute respiratory infections (ARI’s) by around 23 per cent (Rabie, T and Curtis, V. 2006).

Pneumonia, a major ARI, is the number one cause of mortality among children under five years old, taking the life of an estimated 1.8 million children per year. Diarrhoea and pneumonia, together account for almost 3.5 million child deaths annually (The State of the World’s Children, UNICEF 2008)


Rates of handwashing around the world are low. Observed rates of handwashing with soap at critical moments – i.e. before handling food and after using the toilet - range from zero per cent to 34 per cent (Scott B, Curtis V & Rabie, T 2003).

A recent study shows that handwashing with soap by birth attendants and mothers significantly increased newborn survival rates by up to 44 per cent (Victor Rhee et al 2008).


Handwashing with soap is the single most cost-effective intervention to prevent diarrheal related deaths and disease (The World Bank 2006).