Let hand-washing be our new normal post-Covid-19 crisis

Wednesday, June 17th, 2020 07:00 |
Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o leads residents in hand washing to keep at bay Coronavirus.

Dr Anthony Kinyanjui 

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought to life intriguing discussions about our culture in terms of hand-washing and exchange of greetings.

Now more than ever, many are advocating the complete phase-out of handshake greetings.

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), washing hands can keep you and your loved ones healthy and can prevent the spread of respiratory and diarrhoeal infections.

Even as medical practitioners and other regulatory bodies champion this, data from CDC shows that only 31 per cent of men and 65 per cent of women wash their hands after using bathrooms.

This is a clear indicator the culture of proper hand hygiene is yet to be embraced fully.

Globally, the WHO, CDC and  health ministries have recommended handwashing with soap and water to prevent the spread of Covid-19, with the alternative use of alcohol-based hand sanitisers, where access to soap and water is limited.

However, this is not a new concept as many institutions had already began championing hand hygiene even before coronavirus struck.

In 2008, the UN General Assembly initiated the first handwashing campaign at the World Water Week celebrations, which took place in Stockholm, Sweden.

Since then, many nations celebrate World Water Week and encourage their citizens to practice proper hand hygiene.

Organisations and employers have also been at the forefront of championing proper handhygiene at the work place.

This is an appreciated move as handling documents, computers, money, cell phones, bank cards, toilet seats, door handles, light switches, among others, exposes us to many disease-causing germs.

According to WHO, diarrhoea-related illnesses are the second leading cause of mortality for children under the age of five.

Every year, there are at least 1.7 billion reported cases of child diarrhoea and at least 525,000 related deaths.

This number is mind-boggling considering that these are cases that could easily be avoided if clean health and sanitation is adhered to.

The CDC estimates that by washing hands with soap and water, at least 50 per cent of diarrhoea associated deaths could be reduced.

This calls for sensitisation and education campaigns geared towards behaviour change across all age groups starting from children.

Now that most of us know that we should wash our hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitisers, more needs to be done to sensitise the population to embrace regular handwashing as a lifestyle.

Government and all other institutions should have handwashing posters or fliers strategically placed in schools, hospitals, in places of worship, restaurants, airports, bus stations, malls, markets and other public areas. This will reinforce the message and lead to change.

Medical facilities and medics must also adopt the practice of proper hand hygiene to avoid transmission of germs and prevent healthcare-associated infections also referred to as nosocomial infections.

Every problem has a solution. If we all practice proper hand hygiene, we will play a critical role in reducing the spread of infections such as Covid-19 and diarrhoeal infections.

We must not await for the Global Hand Washing Day on October 15 to champion proper hand hygiene.

The message should not be to wash your hands, but rather, frequently wash your hands with soap and water to reduce the spread of infections.

One thing is for sure, we are coming out of this pandemic with changed perspectives and changed behavioural approaches.

However, we all need to make the practice of proper hand hygiene a habit. —The writer is the Medical Officer in charge of Equity Afia, Embakasi Medical Centre

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