Did you know that washing your hands with soap is one of the most cost-effective health care solutions on the planet? Though nasty germs are everywhere, the ones on your hands can come into contact with (and thus spread disease through) innumerable other objects, eventually gaining access into your body when you scratch a small cut, rub your eyes or eat with your fingers. Indulging in soapy, foamy, wet goodness all over your hands, between your fingers and under your nails (washing for at least 20 seconds) can drastically reduce the rate of infection, keeping adults at work, children in school, and all of us feeling productive, prosperous and happy. Isn't that grand?
Unfortunately, for much of the developing world, there's a lot more at stake than a missed day at school. According to UNICEF figures, close to 29,000 children under the age of five die every day from preventable causes. That's 21 children each minute whose lives are lost to diarrhea, respiratory illnesses (pneumonia), malaria and many other dreadful illnesses that could be kept at bay through fairly simple means. While some of these challenges are best met with vaccines and medicines, one pump of soap and a little bit of water is incredibly effective at stopping the spread of typhoid, cholera, giardia and infections--especially when done habitually after using the toilet. (For more exact statistics, see the Handwashing Fact Sheet).
Before you put away that celebratory champagne, remember that today also happens to be Blog Action Day 2010: Water, sponsored by Change.org. (I am happy to be posting today as a part of that.) While every man, woman and child has the right to clean drinking water, it's important to note that "clean water" is often a euphemism that really means "poop-free water." Every gram of feces can contain 10 million viruses and one million bacteria, so when people don't have toilets and poop gets in their water, or when they use the toilet but don't wash their hands with soap, it only takes a little bit to cause big trouble.
Water is the stuff of life; it sustains us, cleanses us, it's what we're mostly made of. On a day like today, I encourage you to take a moment and acknowledge how lucky we are to turn on the tap and drink without fear. If you can take a long shower, a hot bath, or flush a toilet, know that you might have it better than most of the world. So go out there, indulge in what we've got--use the bathroom freely, wash your hands with relish, and eat messy finger foods. With our thoughts, our donations, and our signatures on the petition line, soon the rest of the world will join us.