‘More than half the population denied access to hand hygiene’

Kathmandu, March 18

Hands washed with soap, when done correctly, go a long way in the fight against novel coronavirus disease, but millions of people have no easy access to a place to wash their hands, UNICEF said today.

In Nepal, more than half of the population do not have access to handwashing with soap and water at households, said a press release issued by UNICEF. Nearly three quarters of the people in least developed countries including Nepal lack basic handwashing facilities at home.

As the pandemic continues to spread, UNICEF has been reminding the public of the importance of handwashing as a key prevention measure against COVID-19. It has been urging renewed efforts to provide access to this most basic of public health interventions.

“Handwashing with soap is one of the cheapest, most effective things you can do to protect yourself and others against coronavirus, as well as many other infectious diseases.

Yet for billions, even this most basic step is simply out of reach,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF director of programmes.

“It is far from a magic bullet. But it is important to make sure people know what step they should take to keep themselves and their families safe, even as we continue our longstanding efforts to make basic hygiene and sanitation available for everyone.”

In many parts of the world, children, parents, teachers, healthcare workers and other members of the community do not have access to basic handwashing facilities at home, in healthcare facilities and schools.

According to the latest estimate, 40 per cent of the world’s population, or three billion people, do not have a handwashing facility with water and soap at home. “In Nepal, 54 per cent health care facilities have no access to handwashing facilities at point of care. Availability of disinfectant at outpatient departments of health care facilities is only 59 per cent while availability of water in delivery rooms at health care facilities is 69 per cent. Urban population is particularly at risk of viral respiratory infections due to population density and more frequent public gathering in crowded spaces like markets, public transport or places of worship,” read the release circulated by UNICEF, Nepal.

According to UNICEF, 33 per cent of urban population or around three in 10 people do not have access to handwashing with soap and water in Nepal. “Handwashing is also key to protect health workers from infection and prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other infections in healthcare facilities.”

As the COVID-19 response takes its toll on health services in the affected countries, the practice of handwashing with soap is even more important in warding off common respiratory and diarrhoeal diseases,” it read. In total, only three out of five people worldwide have basic handwashing facilities, according to the latest data.