Updated as of May 2015
Diarrheal diseases kill approximately 1.8 million people per year. Among infection diseases, diarrhea ranks as the third leading cause of mortality and morbidity, after respiratory infections and HIV/AIDS (The Cochrane Collaborations (2010) Interventions to improve disposal of human excreta for preventing diarrhea (Review) p. 5 John Wiley & Sons)
Globally, approximately 2.5 billion cases of diarrhea occur among children under five years old every year. About 80% of those cases are in Africa and South Asia. (UNICEF/WHO (2009) Diarrhea: Why children are still dying and what can be done August 2012)
Diarrhea is the second most common killer of children under five globally, and as of 2010 it is the most common killer five children under 5 in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is higher than the number of deaths caused by AIDS, malaria and measles COMBINED. (Black RE, Cousens S, Johnson H L et al. Global, regional and national cases of child mortality in 2008: a systematic analysis Lancet 375 p.969-87)
Nearly one in 5 child deaths is due to diarrhea, about 1.5 million lives lost every year.
Diarrheal diseases also contribute to malnutrition, stunted growth, burden in healthcare costs and time lost at school or work.
Research studies have demonstrated that the risk of diarrhea can be reduced 44-47% through handwashing interventions (Curtis V. and S. Cairncross Effect of washing hands with soap on diarrhea risk in the community: a systematic review Lancet Infectious Diseases 2003 p. 275-81)
Promotion of handwashing with soap has been shown to reduce the risk of acute respiratory infection in children <5 in half (Luby, S.P. et al Effect of Handwashing on Child Health: a randomized controlled trial Lancet 2005 366(9481) p. 225-233)
Though less studied, face and body washing reduce the risk of trachoma and skin infections.
Handwashing promotion campaigns are increasingly being implemented as part of an effort to improve child survival.
Just 15 countries account for more than 70% of all annual deaths from diarrhea among children under 5 (Number of annual deaths due to Diarrheal diseases):
- India — 386,600
- Nigeria — 151,700
- DRC — 89,900
- Afghanistan — 82,100
- Ethiopia — 73,700
- Pakistan — 53,300
- Bangladesh — 50,800
- China — 40,000
- Uganda — 29,300
- Kenya — 26,400
Major causes of death in neonates and children under 5 years old
Over 750,000 deaths during the neonatal period (babies under 28 days old) are estimated to occur annually because of infectious syndromes such as sepsis, acute respiratory infection, neonatal tetanus, and diarrhea (UNICEF A Promise Renewed: A Progress Report 2013 p. 22-23).
The Neglected Tropical Diseases
Trachoma is the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness. (WHO, 2013d)
- Nearly 1.2 million people are irreversibly blind as a result of trachoma. (WHO, 2013d)
- Infection with trachoma results from poor hygiene and sanitation. (WHO, 2013d)
- When an individual uses soap during face washing, there is a 27% estimated reduction in risk of active trachoma. (Stocks, M., et al., 2013)
- When an individual washes face at least once daily, there is a 36% estimated reduction in risk of active trachoma. (Stocks, M., et al., 2013)
Soil-transmitted Helminths (Intestinal Worms)
Worldwide over one billion people are estimated to be at risk of infection with STH, including over 800 million children (WHO 2013a). STH are spread through contact with feces of infected individuals. Infection happens when fecally contaminated soil or food is ingested or when
larvae living in soil penetrate bare skin. Handwashing with soap at critical times, such as after defecation and before eating, can reduce risk of infection by more than 30%.