Hand washing with soap is an effective and cheap health intervention, said co-ordinator for the National Hand Washing Initiative under the Water and Sanitation Programme Nguyen Kim Nga.
Scientific evidence reveals that hand washing cuts the incidence of diarrhoea by nearly half, and acute respiratory infections by about one-third, she said.
However, only 12 per cent of the rural population in Viet Nam wash hands with soap before meals and 16 per cent after defecation, according to Thowai Zai, chief of Water and Sanitation Division at the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)'s Viet Nam.
He added more than 40 per cent of people in rural Viet Nam, including more than 17 million children, did not have access to a standard hygienic latrine.
A World Bank report in 2008 which aimed to measure the economic impact of sanitation in Viet Nam concluded that annually, poor sanitation and unclean water accounted for 7 million diarrhoea cases, 2.4 million cases of scabies, worms, hepatitis A and trachoma and 0.9 million malnutrition-related cases.
The report estimated the economic losses due to increased health care amounted to US$262 million.
Zai said almost one-tenth of the global burden of disease could actually be prevented by improving water supplies, sanitation and hygiene.
Nga said as hand washing with soap is among the most effective yet inexpensive hygienic practices, it was high time to raise awareness about its importance among the public, and transform hand washing with soap, especially at critical times before eating and after using the toilet, into an ingrained habit.
The annual Global Hand Washing Day this year, which falls on October 15, will echo the wider adoption of this practice. It will be the centrepiece of a week of activities that will mobilise millions of people in more than 80 countries to wash their hands with soap.
The Deputy Director of the National Centre for Rural Water Supply and Environmental Sanitation, Nguyen Thanh Luan, said Viet Nam would actively take part through various activities, including utilising women's union meetings at local levels and organising school ‘edutainment' activities and creative competitions, including songs, artwork or photo displays on the theme of hand washing with soap. — VNS