Schools play a key role in the lives of girls, boys and their families, offer learning opportunities as well as the development of social interaction skills, and are essential for protection against different forms of violence. In addition, a considerable number of children and adolescents depend on school meals for their food security.
During the pandemic, the partial or total closure of hundreds of thousands of schools has profoundly affected learning, mental health and the protection of children and adolescents. According to UNESCO data, in the world educational centers have closed totally or partially for, on average, 22 weeks. In Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), the averages were much higher, reaching more than 30 weeks. With the commitment of governments, the support of international cooperation, civil society and families themselves, this situation has been changing and represents a unique opportunity to put the practice of hand hygiene at the center as a central measure not only to prevent infections against COVID-19 but also to prevent other diseases as the evidence supports very well.
In the same way, it is an opportunity to join forces and continue strengthening programmatic actions aimed at achieving the Sustainable Development Goals to 2030, particularly goal 4.a that commits countries to "Build and adapt educational facilities that take into account the needs of children and people with disabilities and gender differences, and that provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all" and whose compliance indicators are closely related to ensuring the conditions conducive to making the practice of hand hygiene possible to be adopted, and are: (i) proportion of schools with access to basic water supply, broken down by level of education (in percentages); (ii)proportion of schools with basic hygiene facilities (a handwashing point with soap and water), broken down by level of education (in percentages). But it is important to clarify that the basic hygiene/hand washing service does not necessarily require the educational center to be connected to the water network; the simple storage of water in a container with tap and soap is considered as a basic hygiene/handwashing service point. Ensuring that 100% of schools in each LAC country have basic sink services is the best pilot test before moving on to the second, much more complex and expensive stage of delivering the other basic water and sanitation services.
In this regard, it is imperative that national and sub-national governments under the leadership of ministries of education and/or secretaries of education and with the participation of other key sectors such as ministries of health, social welfare, housing and construction, economy, planning, etc., civil society organizations, the private sector, and other key actors work in a coordinated manner to ensure the universalization of the hand hygiene in schools.
Taking into account this need, the Hand Hygiene for All Initiative (HH4A) presents this guidance document addressed to key officials from all essential sectors of national governments such as ministries of education, health, finance, water and sanitation, etc., municipalities or governorates. , civil society actors, directors and teachers of educational centers committed to achieving the universalization of hand hygiene with soap and water in schools. The use of disinfectant gel is not mentioned as more vulnerable schools may have greater difficulty in having access and financial resources to buy gel/alcohol on the market compared to hauling water from a nearby source and getting soap for students to wash their hands.
The document has been built on the basis of global and regional knowledge generated to promote hand hygiene in schools.