Wash hands

World Water Day 2020 highlights the essential role of handwashing

Good hand hygiene protects you and those around you. One of the most important contributions we can make to slowing down transmission of COVID-19 and keeping ourselves and our communities safe is to wash our hands. This is the main message of World Water Day 2020 on 22 March, and everyone has a role to play.

The provision of safe water, sanitation and adequate hygiene (WASH) is essential to protecting human health during all infectious disease outbreaks. Ensuring good and consistently applied WASH, environmental cleaning and waste management practices in communities, homes, schools, marketplaces and health-care facilities will further help to prevent human-to-human transmission of the COVID-19 virus. Strictly following good handwashing and personal hygiene practices is important for all, but especially in health-care settings, where it protects both patients and health-care workers.

Safe hygiene standards require a continuous and adequate supply of safe water, and sanitation systems that will continue to function even under stress or challenging conditions, such as under a changing climate. Within the WHO European Region, we have a strong multilateral mechanism: the Protocol on Water and Health to the 1992 Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes. The Protocol’s primary objective is to promote the protection of human health and well-being within a framework of sustainable development, through improving water management, including the protection of water ecosystems, and through preventing, controlling and reducing water-related disease.

“Washing your hands is such a simple act, and yet such an essential step in halting infectious disease transmission and saving lives,” notes Oliver Schmoll, Programme Manager for Water and Climate at the WHO European Centre for Environment and Health in Bonn, Germany. “But in order to be able to maintain good hand hygiene, hospitals, schools and communities require a continuous supply of safe water and the availability of functional hand hygiene facilities and soap.”

To support water and sanitation practitioners and providers, as well as health-care professionals, WHO has recently published a technical brief, “Water, sanitation, hygiene and waste management for COVID-19”.

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