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14 October, 2020 10:34:30 PM

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Global Hand Washing Day: Clean hands save lives

Handwashing with soap can help reduce the transmission of a range of diseases. It can reduce diarrheal diseases by 30% to 48%. One study found that regular handwashing with soap can reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 infection by 36%
Mohammed Norul Alam Raju
Global Hand Washing Day: Clean hands save lives

At the time of writing this article, COVID-19 has spread around the world with virtually no region left untouched. At the same time, handwashing has considered No.

1 tip for preventing the spread of coronavirus. It has also proven that proper handwashing not only reduces the spread of coronavirus, it can prevent the spread of other viral illnesses such as cold and flu.

The knowledge of key hygiene messages is high in Bangladesh, but the practice of handwashing, the most effective hygiene behaviour, is very low. Just about 59.1 per cent of people practice handwashing with water and soap at critical times, found the 2013 UNICEF survey. Statistics also reveal that two out of five people in the world do not have a handwashing facility with soap and water on premises.

As part of hand washing day, the global handwashing forum has shared a fact that 3 billion people lacked soap and water at home, around 900 million children lacked soap and water at their school, and 40% of health care facilities were not equipped to practice hand hygiene at points of care. However, adequate water, sanitation and hygiene services for households, schools and healthcare facilities are essential to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. In some countries, like Yemen, coverage is much poorer, with 84% of schools providing no handwashing facilities for students. In India, for example, 5% of schools report their main water source to be from students bringing their own water to school. In Bangladesh, 60% schools do not have handwashing facilities with soap and water.

Handwashing with soap can help reduce the transmission of a range of diseases. It can reduce diarrheal diseases by 30% to 48%. One study found that regular handwashing with soap can reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 infection by 36%.

Keeping all these statistics in mind, hand hygiene will remain as a central part of COVID-19 response once the world will celebrate Global Handwashing Day on 15 October. It will remind the world to rebuild a better hygiene system that will help to control COVID-19, prevent other new emerging diseases, and fight against long-term challenges like diarrheal diseases.

Handwashing requires five simple steps which include putting both your hands under clean, running water, apply a generous amount of soap to the inside and back of your hands as well as your fingertips. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds and don’t forget to wash under jewelry and fingernails, rub both hands together and move your fingertips around both hands, return both hands to the running water and gently wash away the soap, completely dry the water from your hands.

It is also important to know that when do we need to wash hands. Handwashing throughout the day is important. But returning from a public outing, before leaving the bathroom, after shaking hands during flu season and virus outbreaks, before, during, and after preparing food, especially raw food, before eating food, before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with symptoms of vomiting or diarrhea, after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing are some key times to wash hands.

In last five years, we have implemented a project in coastal areas of Bangladesh where hygiene promotion was one of the key elements of the project. One of the learnings we observed from that campaign is that unavailability of cleaned water is the key bars for successful implementation of handwashing activity. How can we enforce citizens to ‘waste’ clean water for handwashing once potable drinking water is insufficient? This growing challenge exists not only in the coastal area but also in hilly, char and other water insufficient areas of the country.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the WHO released new recommendations and guidelines stipulating that hygiene facilities should be established at the entrance to all public and private commercial buildings, at all major transport hubs (such as bus and train stations, airports, and seaports) and at markets, shops, places of worship, health care facilities and schools. We see availability of hand hygiene facilities in public locations rarely that can consider the second major challenge for establishing handwashing as key practice among the citizens. Hand hygiene facilities need to be regularly maintained, restocked, refilled and cleaned to enable hand hygiene. For this, the right policies and plans, institutional arrangements, capacity development, financing and monitoring need to be in place.

The third challenge is the lack of awareness among citizens. The poor rate of handwashing that stated above does speaks the clear gap in awareness among the population. In addition to a greater presence on social media platforms and other advertising outlets, the importance of handwashing is now frequently seen on daily news reports, handwashing initiatives are taken by service users, politicians, public figures and many others but this is not commonly seen in normal time.

The fourth challenge for popularizing handwashing among mass people is the lack of capacity of poor and extreme poor for spending budget for hand washing stations. Thus, it is key to ensuring the sustainability and cost effectiveness of programming.

Hygiene promotion should not be thought of as a one-off event but rather an adaptive process that gets revised and adjusted in order to support sustained change which may consider the fifth challenge of establishing handwashing practices. The hygiene programme stand-alone will not help to change the behavior; rather integrated programmes may bring positive result that may include in the development programs by the agencies and health programs by the central government. A study that painting footprints on the path between the toilet and the handwashing facility increased handwashing behaviour by 64% in schools. While another study in Rohingya camp found that putting toys in soap made handwashing more fun for children and made them 4 times more likely to wash their hands with soap.

Finally, components such as policy, coordination, regulation and financing which underpin hand hygiene services and behaviour change need to be strengthened. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that preventing the spread of infectious diseases is not just the task of the government. It is key that national government take the lead in establishing mechanisms for coordination, however this can often be complemented by other structures.

COVID-19 has reminded decision makers about the importance of hand hygiene, but systems may need to be reimagined to sustain a culture of hand hygiene. This may include structural reforms within governments and institutions; enhancing the institutional, regulatory and legal foundations for hygiene access and hygiene promotion; implementing inclusive hygiene programming at scale, integrating hygiene programming across various sectors; and monitoring and enforcing hygiene requirements in public and private commercial settings, including schools and health care facilities. The current pandemic has made handwashing the focus of attention. We must now ensure that this focus continues.

The writer is Technical Program Director – Nobo Jatra at World Vision Bangladesh. E-mail:[email protected]

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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