More than 800 million children globally are not able to wash their hands at school, according to a new joint report from the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund released Wednesday.
Guidelines for reopening schools during the Covid-19 pandemic emphasize the need for hygiene to reduce transmission and recommend that schools enforce regular hand washing, among other measures.
“However, in the 60 countries identified as having the highest risk of health and humanitarian crisis due to Covid-19, one in two schools lacked basic water and sanitation services and three in four lacked basic handwashing services at the start of the pandemic,” the report said.
There are 818 million children globally who do not have access to basic handwashing at school. Of those children, 355 million -- mainly in Northern Africa and Western Asia -- have access to water but not soap. The remaining 462 million have no access to hand washing.
Over half of the children without access to hand washing live in sub-Saharan Africa.
Nearly 70% of schools had basic drinking water services, but this still left 584 million children globally without access to basic drinking water at school, the report said. Many lived in sub-Saharan Africa, and three countries in particular: Ethiopia, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Nearly 700 million children lacked basic sanitation at school, and 20%, or over 350 million schools, had no sanitation service at all.
“Access to water, sanitation and hygiene services is essential for effective infection prevention and control in all settings, including tools,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, in a news release alongside the report.
“It must be a major focus of government strategies for the safe reopening and operation of schools during the ongoing Covid-19 global pandemic.”
WHO and UNICEF also launched the global initiative “Hand Hygiene for All” in June 2020, which aims to scale up hand hygiene in response to Covid-19.