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World's limited hand-washing facilities highlight COVID-19 risk

Recent data from the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme reveals 43% of schools around the world lacked access to basic hand-washing resources prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the urgent need to increase access to hand hygiene facilities for those most vulnerable.

In response, UNICEF and WHO have launched Hand Hygiene for All, a joint initiative to support vulnerable communities by achieving universal access to hand hygiene.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder that one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of a virus is also one of the simplest: hand hygiene,” the report says.

“It not only protects us from contracting the disease, but also stops transmission to other people.”

The initiative brings together international partners, national governments, and public and private sectors to ensure affordable products and services are available, especially in disadvantaged areas.

UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said, in the midst of a pandemic, it is now more important than ever to achieve access to basic hygiene facilities in all schools.

“Global school closures since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic have presented an unprecedented challenge to children’s education and wellbeing,” she said.

“We must prioritise children’s learning. This means making sure that schools are safe to reopen — including with access to hand hygiene, clean drinking water and safe sanitation.”

With evidence of the negative impacts of prolonged school closures on children’s safety and wellbeing, the report stresses the need for governments to implement public health measures to ensure children can return to school safely, as soon as possible.

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it is crucial for governments to ensure that schools are COVID-19 safe once reopened.

“Access to water, sanitation and hygiene services is essential for effective infection prevention and control in all settings, including schools," he said.

"It must be a major focus of government strategies for the safe reopening and operation of schools during the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic.”

The report includes immediate actions and safety resources that can be used, building on the guidelines on the safe reopening of schools issued by UNESCO, UNICEF, WFP and the World Bank in April 2020.