Clean hands: Need to create more awareness
By: Vinod Chandrashekhar Dixit
Every year we observe October 15 as Global Hand washing Day to remind people about the importance of hand hygiene to health. India has one third of the world’s poorest population and the Global Goals have a significant role to play especially at a time when 1.3 billion people are forced to live in poverty across the world.
There is a need to increase awareness and understanding about the importance of hand washing with soap as an easy, effective, and affordable way to prevent diseases and save our lives. The habit of proper hand washing is directly linked to one’s health especially among school going children. During the COVID-19 pandemic it became obvious to the world that proper hand hygiene can help save lives for people everywhere. Unfortunately, there are still millions of people in many parts of the world that do not even have access to proper hand hygiene facilities.
For hand washing to be more effective it must be accomplished consistently at key times, such as after using the toilet or before contact with food. Habit formation is currently a hot topic in behavior change and the water, sanitation, and hygiene sector.
Hand-washing is the No. 1 prevention against spread of infection, inside and outside the hospital setting. It is important in the home, in schools and in every workplace. It is the cornerstone of infection-control practice and education for everyone who works in health care.
Every year worldwide, 8.8 million children younger than age 5 die of preventable illnesses. There are many children in the world who do not have access to safe water, or the habit or means to wash their hands properly. It is also observed that when students have access to clean water, soap, and toilet facilities, they are less likely to drop out or miss classes due to illness.
We know that hand washing with soap is the most effective and inexpensive way to prevent diarrheal diseases – reducing incidence by up to 47% – and combined with improved sanitation, this is boosted to 68%.
Many diseases are transmitted when we don’t wash our hands. Bacterial, viral and fungal infections can be prevented if the hands are washed properly every day. Worm infestation, anemia, malnutrition and diarrhea are the common health hazards caused by unhygienic hands. If there is no hygiene, there is no health.
The introduction of water, sanitation and hygiene interventions in schools, including hand washing with soap, is an entry point for children to understand and then take these good hygiene practices back into their homes and communities.
According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report of 2013, India loses more than 900 children everyday due to incidences of diarrhea, most of them caused by extremely poor quality of water and sanitation services. Inadequate sanitation or lack of it, is also responsible for high incidences of malnutrition and stunting in the country.
Hand washing is a small action that can have big benefits. Let us progress towards the goal of maintaining a global profile on the importance of hand hygiene in health care and to ‘bring people together’ in support of hand hygiene improvement globally.
It is a need of the hour to spread the word about hand washing, build sinks and tippy taps, and demonstrate the simplicity and value of clean hands. We need to emphasize the importance of hand washing as a way to prevent disease, the necessity of using soap instead of only water, how everyone’s health can benefit from washing their hands, and the key times for hand washing, including before and after eating.
(The author hails from Jodhpur Tekra, Ahmedabad)