It is Global Handwashing Day, marked to encourage children all over the world to use soap when washing their hands. The push is part of an effort to reduce diseases such as diarrhea, which causes 415,000 deaths each year in West and Central Africa.
In West and Central Africa 16 percent of child deaths are caused by diarrhea, according to the regional U.N. Children's Fund. UNICEF regional director in Senegal Gianfranco Rotigliano says the Global Handwashing event highlights disease prevention. "We have a very, low, low sanitation level, so we have a series of conditions in the region that are unfortunately leading to this kind of situation," he said.
Diarrhea is the third cause of death in West and Central Africa, which is responsible for 30 percent of the world's deaths of children under the age of five. Handwashing with soap can significantly reduce disease, says UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. "Health experts suggest that if people do this regularly, the incidence of diarrhea can be reduced by as much as 40 percent," she said.
But the region's water, sanitation and hygiene specialist for UNICEF, Jane Bevan, says families who live in the area do not have always access to clean water. "It is often a problem and we have to do as best we can, and quite often we are supporting schools to develop water supplies as well and also looking at alternatives solutions, using ash," she said.
As part of its strategy to combat diarrhea, UNICEF hopes to provide more oral rehydration therapy treatment, vitamin-A supplements and improved water resources to populations that need it, says Veneman. "An estimated 2.5 billion people in the world are still not using improved sanitation facilities," she said.
More than 80 countries are taking part in Global Handwashing Day.