Handwashing key to preventing diseases, infections

BY: Daily Graphic
File photo
File photo

Today, October 15, is Global Handwashing Day (GHD), a day set aside to emphasise the importance of observing proper handwashing as a way of preventing the spread of diseases.

Global Handwashing Day was founded by the Global Handwashing Partnership as an opportunity to design and implement creative ways to encourage people to wash their hands with soap, especially during critical times.

The “critical times” are listed as after using the toilet, cleaning a baby and before handling food.

The day is aimed at creating a culture of handwashing with soap in all societies, to create awareness of the state of handwashing in each country and to inform people about the benefits of handwashing with soap.

Proper and effective handwashing as highlighted by the day is washing of the hands with soap under running water either from a tap or improvised water system that will ensure water flows freely on the hands during washing.

Until the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2019, handwashing and its importance in helping prevent the spread of diseases was a practice that most people probably never gave much thought to.

However, the global pandemic has really shone a light on the importance of handwashing, meaning that the commemoration of GHD, which commenced in 2008, now carries extra relevance.

Although since 2008 the day has been observed as an annual advocacy day for handwashing with soap as an easy, effective and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives, it is sad to note that the public’s response to handwashing has waned since COVID-19 infections reduced in the country.

Albeit, COVID-19 is still with us and we must not take handwashing with soap under running water, which saved us a lot during the peak of the pandemic, for granted.

The 2022 GHD theme is: “Unite for Universal Hand Hygiene,” which points to the need for joint action and collaboration as essential for successful and sustainable hand hygiene strategies.

This year’s theme calls for governments, donors, businesses, institutions, researchers and advocates to unite in action to achieve the goal of hand hygiene for all.
Indeed, when the COVID-19 pandemic was intense, there were many collaborations between all these sections of society, which enabled us to fight it. This year’s theme focuses on such collaborations, to ensure no one is left out in accessing soap and water for hygienically clean hands at all times.

The Daily Graphic finds it heartwarming that GHD has over the years been endorsed by schools, the government, international institutions, private companies, churches and civil society organisations, among other groupings, and urges for greater collaboration to help us all employ proper handwashing to reduce the country’s disease burden.

According to the GHD 2022 fact sheet, handwashing with soap which borders on hand hygiene, can reduce diarrhoeal diseases by 30 per cent, reduce acute respiratory infections by up to 20 per cent and also plays an important role in reducing the transmission of outbreak-related pathogens such as cholera, Ebola, shigellosis, SARS, hepatitis E, and COVID-19.

Hand hygiene is also protective against healthcare-associated infections and reduces the spread of antimicrobial resistance and may contribute to the reduction of Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Handwashing has further been linked to benefits beyond disease reduction, such as reduced rates of school absenteeism and, recently, programmes aimed at encouraging older children to perform regular handwashing in school have been central to safe school-reopening strategies and preventing school closures.

The ability to regularly practise handwashing is also thought to contribute to improved wellbeing, dignity, educational fulfilment and productivity.

Achieving universal hand hygiene in the country is a complex issue and requires collaboration and coordination between multiple and interconnected actors across all levels of the system.

It calls for what the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) Handwashing Handbook refers to as building blocks. These are: Coordination and Institutional Arrangements, Policies and Strategies, Financing, Planning, Monitoring and Review, and Capacity Development.

We urge all stakeholder institutions to, therefore, get their act together to ensure that the country has a solid handwashing and hand hygiene regime, so we do not have to employ ad hoc measures when there are disease outbreaks. Handwashing and hand hygiene must be a lifestyle.