Envis Centre, Ministry of Environment & Forest, Govt. of India

Printed Date: Saturday, July 13, 2024


Handwashing with soap is a “do-it-yourself vaccine” that, when practiced properly and regularly, prevents infections and saves lives.


Handwashing with soap stops the spread of the germs that cause diarrhea (including shigellosis, typhoid, and cholera), other common endemic gastroenteric infections, and some respiratory infections such as influenza (flu) and pneumonia. Diarrhea and pneumonia are leading causes of death worldwide for children under five. These pathogens originate in human feces (poo) and are passed from person to person through physical contact, contaminated food and liquids and other routes. Handwashing with soap after contact with fecal matter—from using the toilet or cleaning a child—prevents the transmission of the bacteria, viruses, and protozoa that cause many diseases.


Because handwashing can prevent the transmission of a variety of pathogens, it may be more effective than any single vaccine. Studies have found that children living in households where handwashing is encouraged and soap is available have half the rates of diarrhea compared to children who do not have these. When practiced regularly and on a wide scale, handwashing with soap can be thought of as a “do-it-yourself vaccine” because it is easy, effective, and affordable.


Diarrheal Disease


A review of more than 30 studies found that handwashing with soap cuts the incidence of diarrhea by nearly half. Human feces (poo) is the main source of the germs that cause diarrhea, including shigellosis, typhoid, and cholera, and all other common endemic gastro-enteric infections. These germs make people ill when they enter the mouth via hands that have been in contact with feces, contaminated drinking water, unwashed raw food, unwashed utensils, or smears on clothes. The figure on the right shows the effectiveness of handwashing wit soap for reducing deaths due to diarrhea in comparison to other interventions.


Acute respiratory infection


Acute respiratory infections like pneumonia are the leading cause of death in children under the age of five. Evidence suggests that better handwashing practices could cut the rate of respiratory illness by more than 20%.5 The full effect might turn out to be even bigger. In fact, a study in Pakistan found that handwashing with soap reduced the number of pneumonia-related infections in children under the age of five by more than 50%.


Intestinal worm and skin


Studies have shown that handwashing with soap reduces the incidence of skin diseases, eye infections like trachoma, and intestinal worms, especially ascariasis and trichuriasis. Good hygiene is a vital component of the strategy to end neglected tropical diseases such as trachoma.


Source : www.pseau.org, Updated on May 9th, 2018


Hygiene is the practice of keeping yourself and your surrounding clean, especially in order to prevent illness or the spread of diseases


Good hygiene is an important barrier to many infectious diseases, including the faeco-oral diseases, and it promotes better health and well-being. To achieve the greatest health benefits, improvements in hygiene should be made concurrently with improvements in the water supply and sanitation, and be integrated with other interventions, such as improving nutrition and increasing incomes.


The installation of a safe, plentiful and easily accessible water supply combined with adequate sanitation in a rural community will have a positive health impact only if combined with hygiene education.  


Hygiene education is crucial to increase the community's knowledge and awareness of the link between water, sanitation, hygiene and health. Hygiene education enables a behavioral change to ensure a lasting health and economic benefit from the improved water and sanitation facilities. Further hygiene education enhances appropriate utilisation, reduces recurrent cost of maintenance and improves the sustainability of the water and sanitation facilities.Seldom has any culture deeply and so consistently associated with animals and trees as that of Hinduism and Buddhism. Religious belief, mythology and folklore combined to invest them with a sanctity that was reiterated throughout the history and endures even today.


Hygiene promotion is a planned approach that aims to reduce the incidence of poor hygiene practices and conditions that pose the greatest risk to the health of children, women and men. Several hygiene promotion methodologies have been developed over time to promote hygiene. Experience with these methodologies has shown that effective hygiene promotion is based on several key principles.


1. Target a small number of risk practices. Because changing habits is not easy, an assessment should be made to understand which risk practices are most widespread, and which can be changed. From the point of view of controlling diarrheal disease, the priorities for hygiene behavior change are likely to include hand washing with soap (or a local substitute) after contact with stools, and the safe disposal of adults' and children's stools.


2. Target specific audiences and identify defining characteristics that affect their approach to hygiene. For example, a specific audience may include students, but students can represent different sexes, cultural groups, and social groups.


3. Identify the motives for changed behavior. While the argument for washing hands with soap will be mainly health related, the motivation for the use of toilets often may have nothing to do with health. People may be persuaded to use a toilet so that their neighbors or classmates will respect them, or for other motives. By working with the target groups one can discover their views of the benefits of safer hygiene practices and use these as the basis for a motivational strategy.


4. Keep hygiene messages positive. Both children and adults learn best when they laugh, and will listen more attentively if they are entertained. Hygiene promotion projects that attempt to frighten their audiences will alienate them.


5. Identify appropriate channels of communication and understand how the target audiences communicate. For example, what proportion of each listens to the radio and attends social or religious functions? Using traditional and existing channels is easier than setting up new ones, but existing channels can only be used effectively if their nature and capacity to reach people are understood.


6. Decide on a cost-effective mix of communication channels. When several channels send the same messages, the messages are reinforced. Be aware of the trade-off between reach, effectiveness, and cost. Mass media reach many people cheaply, but their messages may be soon forgotten. Face-to-face communication can be highly effective in encouraging behavior change, but tends to be expensive. Therefore, a hygiene promotion program will often use a mix of different channels to get the best of all.


7. Plan, execute, monitor, and evaluate hygiene promotion carefully. At a minimum, collect information at regular intervals on the outputs and the population coverage achieved. Define and periodically assess indicators of the impact of hygiene promotion on the targeted behaviors and populations.

Source : World Bank Group, 21st November, 2016