Is your world a wash with germs?

School toilet facility for girls in Ghana

Only one in 10 of us wash our hands after going to the toilet – yet as a society we have never found the idea of germs more disgusting. Why the confusion?

Saturday 15 October marked the fourth annual Global Handwashing Day, and in schoolyards across the world, in Peru and Bangladesh, in Ghana and Pakistan, Egypt and Ethiopia, 200 million people, most of them children, gathered in a great act of communal handwashing: lines stretched across courtyards, tiny hands pressed beneath taps, a flurry of soap, water and lather. Global Handwashing Day is a multi-organisational initiative, launched to convince us that the simple act of washing hands with soap can reduce the spread of often fatal diseases and acute respiratory infections. Its organisers estimate that hand-washing with soap could save more lives than any single vaccine or other form of medical intervention.

Encouraging people to wash their hands after using the toilet or before handling food might seem like stating the obvious. But the truth is quite disturbing: people lie – and lie quite spectacularly – about their personal hygiene.