According to the United Nations, World Water Development Report 2019, over two billion people across the world experience high water stress, and about four billion people experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year. India is a water stressed country and providing additional water for hygiene becomes more challenging in this pandemic situation that demands frequent hand wash with soap, writes Poonam Sewak, Vice President, Safe Water Network.
Did you wash hands the right way? Adopt these four easy steps for hand washing
– Wet your hands with clean water and put soap on it and spread evenly
– Rub your soapy hands for over 20 seconds. Clean the palms, the back of the hands, between the fingers, under the nails
– Rinse them thoroughly under clean running water
– Then pat dry them with a clean piece of cloth
The pandemic has highlighted the critical role of hand hygiene in disease prevention and also stressed on the preexisting problem that hand washing with soap remains inaccessible for millions of homes and especially children. It is very unfortunate that the most vulnerable communities are unable to use the simplest of methods to protect themselves and their loved ones. Access to clean drinking water is the basic fundamental right of every citizen and is the first line of defence against health hazards. With the Covid-19 pandemic raging around the world, the importance of hand washing with soap is becoming more critical.
The theme for Global Hand washing Day 2020 was – Hand Hygiene for All – underlines the importance of hand washing especially during the Covid-19 pandemic as a method to prevent the rise and spread of the virus. It is crucial to note that there are many benefits of hand washing to maintain good hygiene. Unclean hands are responsible for 80 per cent of diseases be it waterborne digestive tract or respiratory tract infections such as cold and the flu, diarrhoea and intestinal illnesses, and common eye infections, which can be caused by bacteria, viruses and germs that get into your eyes from your hands.
In the current situation, ‘Have you sanitize your hands? is the constant question ringing within everyone. While ensuring hygiene one should also address the need of using chemical-free cleaning and sanitization products. WHO recommended, alcohol-based hand sanitizers usually contain a mixture of alcohols such as ethanol, isopropyl alcohols, hydrogen peroxides in different combinations. Frequent use of these sanitizers may become toxic to human health and also is not environment friendly. It leads to increased chance of antimicrobial resistance and chance of other viral diseases too besides causing dry skin, local dehydration, skin rashes, allergy etc. With technological advancements, we have not only become more aware of our personal care but also have become cautious about using the right kind of methods and products. Our immune system is fragile and is susceptible to numerous diseases and infections, which makes upholding good hygiene crucial.
Until Covid-19 pandemic hand washing and its importance in preventing the spread of infection was something which people neglected. The global pandemic has not only brought focus on the importance of hand washing, its appropriate method and also moments of hand wash for disease prevention but also on advocacy, ‘save water’ by closing the tap during 20 seconds of scrubbing hands with soap. The concept Safe Water, Clean Hands and Save Water is being rapidly embraced by communities.
Sensitization, awareness and education on the significance of washing hands, as well as the proper techniques to keep hands clean is being promoted aggressively by the government, NGOs and corporates for improved public health. The main focus has been on method of hand wash and the moments of hand wash.
Keeping clean hands during the day is crucial and some of the important moments of hand washing include after using the toilet or changing baby’s nappies; before, during and after preparing food; before eating; after using a tissue or handkerchief; before and after attending to sick person or touching pets or animals; handling cash or coins or touching switches, door handles and even laptop.
Governments, Development agencies, NGOs collaborated to promote behavior change and create a mass movement for ‘Clean Hands Prevent Disease’. The best of advocacy, behavior change needs to be supported with appropriate infrastructure to get the desired result. Running water from tap at the basin and soap, the two essentials for hand wash were missing in most of the low economic communities. To serve these segments low-cost innovation by adopting the simplest, locally available and affordable methods could be seen in the urban slums and villages, for example using plastic buckets or clay pots that had a tap attached to it and placed on an elevation created by piling a stack of bricks with a bar of soap was most common.
NGOs serving decentralized affordable safe water from their Water ATMs to the low- income communities stepped up their WASH education campaigns in the communities they served. “We demonstrated hand wash techniques to the communities we serve in a month- long campaign” says Anju Karki Impact analyst from JanaJal. Adds Arti Verma from WaterLife that though the schools were closed we distributed pamphlets to households, reached out to the children with constant messaging and held a coloring competition on hand hygiene. Shanker from Safe Water Network says “We mobilized the key opinion leaders in our Water ATM ecosystem on campaign ‘Clean Hands promise Good Health’ and also on ‘Close the taps when you soap your hands’ to save water”. To promote hand wash hygiene many corporates like Honeywell have given grants for developing hand wash infrastructure facilities at the water ATMs. Surekha, Water ATM operator at Malakpetganj Hyderabad points to the hand wash poster displayed at the Water ATM and says “I tell the people, women and children who come to collect water here to wash hands as we cannot see the germs of our hands and nails’ ‘.
Don’t underestimate the power of hand washing! It is the best and easiest infection prevention tool.