900 million children do not have water and soap to wash their hands in schools globally – UNICEF


School children practising handwashing with water and soap in a school. Handwashing has been described as the most basic COVID-19 public health prevention strategy. Photo credit: www.unicef.org

COVID-19 Prevention Strategy: 900 million school-age children cannot find water and soap to wash their hands in schools globally – UNICEF

1 out of every 3 schools globally has no handwashing facilities

3.2 out of 7.5 billion people in the world have no handwashing facility with water and soap at home.

1 out of 6 healthcare centres had no functional toilets or handwashing facilities


Children, parents, teachers, healthcare workers and other members of the community, globally, do not have access to basic handwashing facilities at home, in healthcare centres, schools or somewhere else. Handwashing with soap is crucial in the fight against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), but billions of people globally have no readily available access to a place to wash their hands. Close to 3.2 billion people globally have no basic handwashing facilities with soap and water.

According to United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF), more than 33% of schools globally have no handwashing facilities for children. That is to say that about 1 out of 3 schools worldwide do not have a place where children can wash their hands at all.


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Similarly, about 12 out of 25 schools lacked water and soap for the handwashing resulting in 900 million school-age children lacking handwashing facilities with water and soap.

Again, about 1 out of 6 healthcare centres had no functional toilets or handwashing facilities at either point where patients are treated or taken care of.

The latest study from the global body, that protects and defends the rights and wellbeing of children, estimates that 50% of schools and approximately and 75% of the people in the least developed countries lack basic handwashing facilities in schools and at home respectively.

UNICEF, an agency of United Nations (UN) also said that 3 out of about 7.5 billion people in the world (that is, 40% of the world’s population) have no handwashing facility with water and soap at home.

Handwashing with soap at home and health centres has become even more important and the most basic public health intervention strategy for the prevention of COVID-19 especially in high-density areas with more frequent public gatherings in crowded spaces like markets, public transport or places of worship without which the affected urban populations risk suffering from viral respiratory infections and diarrhoeal diseases just like coronavirus.

Handwashing practice also protects health workers and prevents them from contracting and spreading COVID-19 and other infections in healthcare centres, at home and beyond as the case may be.

UNICEF Director of Programmes, Sanjay Wijesekera, while describing handwashing with soap as one of the cheapest, most effective ways of coronavirus and other infectious disease prevention that billions of people globally are not taking advantage of, reiterated the need for homes, schools and workplaces to maintain basic hygiene and sanitation for safe-keeping.

UNICEF works with schools and teachers globally to develop handwashing policies, strategies and action plans and to teach school children the importance of handwashing so as to ensure school children, parents and education personnel have access to appropriate handwashing facilities.

The best handwashing way in schools

As part of their COVID-19 response in education, UNICEF outlined the best way to wash their hands properly in schools as follows:

  1. Wet hands with running water
  2. Apply enough soap to cover wet hands
  3. Scrub all surfaces of the hands – including the back of hands, between fingers and under nails – for at least 20 seconds.
  4. Rinse thoroughly with running water
  5. Dry hands with a clean cloth or single-use towel
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