Handwashing with soap after potential faecal contact: global, regional and country estimates

Int J Epidemiol. 2019 Aug 1;48(4):1204-1218. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyy253.


Background: Limited data have been available on the global practice of handwashing with soap (HWWS). To better appreciate global HWWS frequency, which plays a role in disease transmission, our objectives were to: (i) quantify the presence of designated handwashing facilities; (ii) assess the association between handwashing facility presence and observed HWWS; and (iii) derive country, regional and global HWWS estimates after potential faecal contact.

Methods: First, using data from national surveys, we applied multilevel linear modelling to estimate national handwashing facility presence. Second, using multilevel Poisson modelling on datasets including both handwashing facility presence and observed HWWS after potential faecal contact, we estimated HWWS prevalence conditional on handwashing facility presence by region. For high-income countries, we used meta-analysis to pool handwashing prevalence of studies identified through a systematic review. Third, from the modelled handwashing facility presence and estimated HWWS prevalence conditional on the presence of a handwashing facility, we estimated handwashing practice at country, regional and global levels.

Results: First, approximately one in four persons did not have a designated handwashing facility in 2015, based on 115 data points for 77 countries. Second the prevalence ratio between HWWS when a designated facility was present compared with when it was absent was 1.99 (1.66, 2.39) P <0.001 for low- and middle-income countries, based on nine datasets. Third, we estimate that in 2015, 26.2% (23.1%, 29.6%) of potential faecal contacts were followed by HWWS.

Conclusions: Many people lack a designated handwashing facility, but even among those with access, HWWS is poorly practised. People with access to designated handwashing facilities are about twice as likely to wash their hands with soap after potential faecal contact as people who lack a facility. Estimates are based on limited data.

Keywords: Diarrhoea; global estimates; hand disinfection; handwashing facility; hygiene.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Communicable Disease Control / methods
  • Developing Countries
  • Feces*
  • Global Health
  • Hand Disinfection / methods*
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Sanitation*
  • Soaps*


  • Soaps