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Article UNICEF warns inadequate hygiene endangers key development goal

More than 40 percent of health facilities have no water resources within 500 metres in sub-Saharan Africa where the practice of handwashing with soap is dangerously low even though it is "one of the cheapest, simplest, most effective health interventions," the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said here Thursday.

The UN agency made the statement on the eighth Global Handwashing Day, which came less than a month after the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, including hygiene for the first time in the global agenda. One of the SDG targets is to achieve "access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene" by 2030.

UNICEF said improvements in hygiene must supplement access to water and sanitation, or children will continue to fall victim to easily preventable diseases like diarrhea.

"Along with drinking water and access to toilets, hygiene -- particularly handwashing with soap -- is the essential third leg of the stool holding up the (Sustainable Development) Goal on water and sanitation," said Sanjay Wijesekera, global head of UNICEF's water, sanitation and hygiene programs, in a press release.

"From birth -- when unwashed hands of birth attendants can transmit dangerous pathogens -- right through babyhood, school and beyond, handwashing is crucial for a child's health," Wijesekera said. "It is one of the cheapest, simplest, most effective health interventions we have."

Sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the highest child mortality rates globally, has particularly low levels of handwashing. According to UNICEF and the UN World Health Organization (WHO), levels are at best 50 percent in 38 countries in the region.

Even health care facilities often lack places for handwashing. "Some 42 percent of them in WHO's Africa Region have no water source available within 500 meters," the UNICEF press release said.

Global Handwashing Day is celebrated on Oct. 15 every year. The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap initiated Global Handwashing Day in 2008, and it is endorsed by governments, international institutions, non-governmental organizations, private companies and individuals around the globe.

To mark the international day, activities are being organized around the world that aim to raise the awareness of handwashing with soap especially to children.

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