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Handwashing Saves Lives, and Not Simply from Swine Flu

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This flu season, American families are getting the message loud and clear: handwashing can save lives this year by preventing the spread of swine flu.

In developing countries, this simple, low-cost and effective way to prevent disease is equally critical for families, particularly children, year-round, and every year.

Cholera, rotavirus infections, and other diarrheal diseases make up the second largest killer of children worldwide. Theses diseases kill more young lives than AIDS, malaria and measles combined! And yet, many of these deaths can be prevented by access to clean water and the simple act of handwashing. Indeed, poor hygiene, lack of access to sanitation and unsafe drinking water together are responsible for 88 percent of diarrheal disease incidences, and contaminated hands are a common way diarrheal disease is spread.

To help spread the message about the importance of handwashing, today is Global Handwashing Day 2009 - the centerpiece of activities taking place this week to mobilize millions of people in more than 80 countries across five continents to wash their hands with soap.

OneWorld Health is proud to join a coalition of public and private organizations in support of Global Handwashing Day because the simple act of handwashing with soap and safe water can save millions of children's lives.

We also applaud the launch of a new joint report by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, DIARRHOEA: WHY CHILDREN ARE STILL DYING AND WHAT CAN BE DONE, that cites handwashing with soap as one of the most cost-efficient and effective methods for preventing diarrheal disease and saving lives

It also highlights the urgent need to focus attention on diarrheal disease, documents the neglect of the disease over the past two decades and lays out a seven-point strategy for reducing mortality with a comprehensive approach that includes proven prevention and treatment methods.

OneWorld Health has also joined more than 100 organizations worldwide in signing on to a Call to Action that encourages decision makers to commit funding and political will to defeat deaths from diarrheal disease. Now is the time to redouble our commitment to child survival and improving conditions around the world for future generations by 2015 through the Millennium Development Goals.

By continuing to raise awareness around the disease burden and the existence of proven prevention and treatment interventions - even actions as simple as handwashing - we can save lives, many lives.