It’s on 15th October ever year that the world observes the Global Handwashing Day, this day serves as a platform to raise global awareness on the importance of hand-washing with soap and how it can be achieved universally. This year’s Global Handwashing Day theme was “Hand Hygiene for All”, reminding us that we must work toward universal access and practice of effective handwashing with soap for now and a healthy future.
Handwashing is a complex behaviour which is not achieved by only accessing the hardware such as water and soap, a person given a tool that he lacks knowledge and skills on how to use and why to use instead wastes it. Knowledge as to why and when should a person wash his/ her hands; people especially in schools, refugee camps, markets, public gathering places should be taught the reasons to why effective hand washing is a cornerstone in their lives such as to clean, disinfect their hands, interrupt the route of transmission of respective diseases causing agents like viruses, bacteria. Skills on how to effectively wash hands; many people think that wetting their hands is hand washing, which is very wrong! And many people by practicing this end up acquiring diseases and transmitting the same to other innocent susceptible people. It’s a responsibility of the provider of the handwashing facility to sensitize the beneficiaries on how to effectively wash their hands. Enabling environment is yet another component to consider such as convenient location of the handwashing facility, reminder stickers; hand washing facilities intended to be used after visiting the toilet should be placed in the proximity of the toilet and likewise to the dining room, kitchen and public places. Knowledge, skills and enabling environment are very crucial points in achieving hand hygiene for all. These also gears an individual’s attitude and interest in practicing handwashing. Empowering the people, communities, institutions with all these four items i.e. hardware, knowledge, skills and enabling environment will increase the rate of achieving this year’s theme. Therefore, I encourage individuals and organisations that are partners in achieving this theme and yet have only mastered in equipping communities with hardware to also ensure that on delivery of the these hardware, the intended beneficiaries should be taught the knowledge, skills and enabling environment as articulated above.
Handwashing with soap is the simplest Infection Prevention and Control measure known; studies prove that it can prevent 1 in 3 (23-40%) people from getting sick with diarrhea, reduce absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness in school children by 29-57%, prevent people from getting respiratory illness by 16-21% (1 in 5) and reduce diarrheal illnesses in people with weakened immunity by 58%. This is why handwashing with soap is very paramount especially at “critical” times like before eating, when preparing food, after defecation, after handling excreta of infants, after using the toilet, after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose, after visiting a public place or a social interaction while for health care workers before touching a patient, before clean/aseptic procedures, after body fluid exposure, after touching a patient, after touching patient surroundings and at exit of the health care facility .
Handwashing has never been more important than now as the world depend on it as one of the major interventions to manage Covid-19 global pandemic in conjunction with wearing masks and social distancing, keeping our hands clean is one of the most important habits we can adopt to prevent contracting Covid-19 and spreading it to others. Without effective handwashing with soap or use of sanitizer we can contract and spread viruses, bacteria and germs we pick up from different exposures.
“Many germs that can make people sick are spread when we don’t wash our hands with soap and clean running water. Wash your hands with soap regular to protect yourself and your loved ones from such avoidable life threatening infections and diseases
“For an empowered sustainable health living community”
K. Esagala Martin
Public Health Specialist
KEM Public Health Advocates