Their lives in our hands

In the first few seconds of life, a newborn baby should be delivered and held in clean hands. As a baby enters the world, one of the simplest ways we can protect them is to make sure they are delivered in a clean environment. New mothers are also vulnerable, and require the same cleanliness to reduce the risk of disease and infection.

Yet every day, thousands of newborn babies die from preventable causes. This can be something as simple as an infection from unclean hands. Too many health workers do not have access to the soap or running water their need to safely deliver new life into the world.

A view of a baby in a yellow blanket.
UNICEF India/2017/Ashutosh SharmaPranjali, the ten-day-old girl of Sarvinda Sundarkar, delivered at Primary Health Center in Maharashtra, India.

To mark Global Handwashing Day this year, we are focusing on the importance handwashing with soap for the safe delivery of healthy babies.

Here are 5 fast facts that might surprise you:

  • Globally, around 35% of hospitals and health centres do not have running water or soap for handwashing; 19% do not have basic toilets. This endangers the lives of the mother and baby, and prevents doctors from reinforcing healthy hygiene habits.
  • Up to 90 percent of health-care workers do not adhere to recommended hand hygiene practices.
  • Around 30–40 percent of infections that result in sepsis-related deaths are transmitted at the time of birth.
  • Access to taps and soap for handwashing varies immensely from 15 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa to 76 percent in Western Asia and Northern Africa.

Every child deserves a fair chance to survive and thrive. In the places where children are born and where they develop, handwashing with soap is one of the simplest ways to help keep them healthy.


Philippa Lysaght represents water, sanitation and hygiene in UNICEF’s public advocacy team.


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