July 13, 2017

Hygiene Matters in the Sustainable Development Goals

Written by Carolyn Moore

Woman washing her hands

This article originally appeared on The Global Handwashing Partnership’s website. Reposted with permission.

The Global Handwashing Partnership is following the High-Level Political Forum on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which convenes in New York this week. The forum’s theme, Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world, reminds us that handwashing is key not only to good health, but for prosperity, education, and opportunity.

At the Forum, countries are presenting reports of their progress towards achieving the SDGs. The reports, available here, describe political, financial, and programmatic efforts to make the 2030 agenda a reality. Hygiene has an important role to play in these efforts. Here are a few ways that handwashing, and hygiene more broadly, will be critical for each of the goals under discussion this week:

Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere

Handwashing with soap removes barriers to economic growth, and can lead to fewer missed work days, lower health systems costs, and more access to educational opportunities. Proper handwashing with soap can advance economic productivity; and lack of access to good hygiene practices perpetuates poverty. Currently, people who are poor are most likely to suffer the human costs of poor hygiene in loss of life, health, and productivity.

Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture

Ending hunger requires much more than access to food.  Handwashing with soap is critical to achieving and maintaining good nutrition. Lack of handwashing leads to diarrheal diseases, which in turn limit the body’s ability to absorb nutrition from food. WHO estimates that roughly half of child undernutrition is caused by poor water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH).

Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

Handwashing’s most immediate benefit is good health. Handwashing with soap is a cost-effective way to prevent health problems ranging from diarrheal diseases to emerging global health threats.  It’s also a critical factor in the success of health strategies. This video provides one example of how handwashing with soap fits into a comprehensive strategy to end diarrheal diseases and save lives in India.

Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Hygiene is a key factor for women and girls to access the economic, educational, and social opportunities they deserve. Menstrual hygiene management still poses a major barrier for women in many parts of the world, tragically illustrated this week by the death of a young woman in Nepal during a menstruation ritual. Education about menstruation, access to water and hygiene facilities, and private, dignified disposal of menstrual products are basic rights, and allow women to work, learn, and lead.

The Forum will also discuss Goal 9 (build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation), and Goal 14, (conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development). Both require healthy populations and workforces, and provide opportunities for infrastructure, innovation, and water use for sustainable handwashing.

While handwashing holds potential for impact towards all SDGs, its greatest power lies in its ability to cut across sectors. Handwashing with soap strengthens interventions in nutrition, maternal health, and other areas. It removes disease as a barrier for equality, economic growth, and more. A seemingly simple act – washing hands with soap and water – leads to results in all areas of the 2030 agenda.

In 2018, the Forum will focus on SDGs including Goal 6 (ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all). The Global Handwashing Partnership is working to ensure that handwashing remains a priority, and to connect stakeholders with the tools and knowledge they need to make Goal 6 a reality. Read the newly launched Joint Monitoring Program report on Progress on Drinking Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene to learn more about where this goal stands today. By ensuring access to handwashing facilities, providing education on handwashing, and using evidence-based behavior change strategies, governments and stakeholders can maximize the potential for handwashing to support the 2030 agenda.

Add your voices to the conversation around this year’s High-Level Political Forum. To engage, read more about the Forum here, follow #HLFP2017 on social media, or check out the Global Health Council’s special events calendar.