Washing hands can aid infection control and prevention of diarrhoea: Expert
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! This came into realisation during the chaotic times of the pandemic when washing hands thoroughly was the most basic precaution asked by the government and healthcare authorities. However, hygiene has always lagged behind in most countries of the world resulting in the WHO recognising WASH (Water, sanitation and hygiene) as a human right for all and including it in the Sustainable Development Goals tailored for the world.
In India, the state of WASH is gradually improving but still has a huge scope for improvement and increased awareness drive. During the period of 2010-2013, India recorded 7.5 per cent of deaths among all age groups because of diarrhoea, malaria and some tropical diseases while more than 1.32 crore cases of acute diarrhoeal disease were listed in the country in 2019. The data is enough to highlight how important it is to integrate hygiene practices like washing hands in our lives as effective preventive measures.
Hands are used in almost every activity we perform throughout the day. Washing them rigorously is the cornerstone of maintaining good hygiene. And hygiene has never harmed anyone! Knowingly or unknowingly we get in contact with a lot of germs and these are carriers of many infections along with troublesome conditions like diarrhoea. To protect against a wide range of diseases like pneumonia, diarrhoea and more, washing hands is the most pocket-friendly method. We prepare, eat food, touch a public place, and touch and handle things that many people previously handled, treat wounds, care for a sick person and do much more with our hands. Thanks to the pandemic, the significance of washing hands was spread broadly, but did we take it seriously? According to UNICEF, people, especially men, do not use hygiene facilities consistently. There is a dire need for impactful political support and behavioural change interventions to spread awareness for sizable improvements in this direction.
Diarrhoea and washing hands
Germs like Salmonella, norovirus, and E. coli O157 are responsible for diarrhoea. These are also important sources of faeces from people or animals. They have the capacity to spread respiratory infections like hand-foot-mouth disease and adenovirus. The germs can easily get on the hands of people and spread when using the toilet or doing any other activity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, handwashing education in the communities can help reduce diarrhoeal issues among people with weak immune systems by approximately 58 per cent. Around 1.8 million children under the age of five lose their lives every year due to diarrheal diseases and pneumonia. These are the top reasons why kids end up in fatal situations around the world
What do facts say?
Research says that around 2.3 people lack hand washing facilities with soap and water at home. Such a lack of facilities is highly problematic for children. Half of the schools have a paucity of handwashing facilities with soap and water. This affects approximately 802 million school-going children. Also, there is a lack of hygiene facilities, especially soap and water to wash hands at places providing health care facilities. These places have a high chance of catching viral bacteria and other contaminations. If there is no proper hygiene maintained here, serious consequences and even fatal outcomes can happen.
Maintaining hand hygiene
One should take responsibility for understanding the key timings and duration of washing hands. Awareness regarding hand hygiene in the home and community needs to be implemented to spread the message as much as possible. Health promotional materials along with the resources to wash hands should be distributed in remote areas and educational institutions. Soap, sanitisers and other materials come under the resources. October 15 is Global Handwashing Day. There can be numerous activities and creative competitions like poster making etc in schools to highlight the importance of hand hygiene. As a responsible citizen, one can promote awareness via videos, creative campaigns, social media hashtags, podcasts and more to get the noble cause a direction.
Monitoring change by making services available and driving policies
The government and healthcare authorities can come together to develop handwashing policies, strategies and action plans. India is almost the leading country in terms of population at the moment. Hence, it is impossible to reach every nook and corner of the country to spread awareness. Thanks to digitalisation! Digitisation can reach everywhere throughout the world. Effective messages on government, as well as healthcare online platforms, can make a big difference. Making services accessible to the most vulnerable is the foundation of achieving this goal.
Failing to plan is planning to fail. A country with massive diversity needs strict measures to come out of the traditional beliefs, social stigma and financial issues in order to take action for healthy citizens. Children suffer more than anyone due to the lack of hygiene. Their bodies are not ready to deal with harsh conditions and vulnerability at a very young age makes it much more complicated for them to battle. Keeping them clean and encouraging hygiene habits in them is the first step to saving them from a wide range of diseases.
(Dr. Anurag Saxena, HOD-Internal medicine, Primus Super Speciality Hospital)