Ever since we were little children, we have been told to keep our hands clean and wash them regularly — before and after eating, after using a washroom, or when entering the house. Although hand hygiene is not a new concept, it has assumed more significance owing to the current health crisis. The global consensus is that washing hands regularly with soap and water is the best way to prevent the spread of coronavirus — and many other communicable diseases.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has marked May 5 as World Hand Hygiene Day recognising the role clean and safe hands play in warding off many serious infections. This year, the theme is ‘Save Lives: Clean Your Hands’, and is in alignment with the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, highlighting their critical role in infection prevention. However, the larger goal is to make hand hygiene a global priority by encouraging a behavioural change.
Food and water-borne diseases are common all over the world, especially in India. According to estimates, there are about 10 million cases of food-borne diseases in the country, stated Vikas Bagaria, founder, Pee Safe. These are caused due to contamination of food from different sources, mostly dirty hands, both while cooking and serving since Indians traditionally use their hands to eat. Some serious infections that are an outcome of dirty hands include hepatitis and food poisoning. As per data from the Center for Disease Prevention and Control, about 1.8 million children under the age of five globally die of diarrhoea-related diseases and pneumonia every day. Good hand hygiene and awareness around it can help in bringing this number down.
Dirty hands can also lead to other health issues. Touching our face with unclean hands can transfer germs to the skin leading to breakouts, blackheads, etc. In people with sensitive skin, it can cause redness and rashes. Hand hygiene is also essential in reducing the use of antibiotics and bringing down resistance to them — a common issue today. This is because rise in infections can lead to increased consumption of antibiotics and further contribute to antibiotic resistance.
What is the right way to wash hands?
Take some soap and create lather. Clean the back of your hands, in between your fingers, the end of your fingers, thumb, palms, wrist and the top of your hand again. Rinse the soap from your hands. Turn off the tap with a tissue to prevent cross-contamination. Discard the tissue in a bin. It should take you around 20 seconds to wash your hands properly (sing the Happy Birthday song twice if you like!).
In case you are travelling, make sure to keep a good-quality alcohol-based hand sanitiser with you. This can be as effective as washing hands with soap and water.
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What has the pandemic prepared us for?
The coronavirus pandemic has led us back to the basics. Right from the good-old Indian ‘namaste’ to cleaning hands frequently, it has underscored the importance of some basic practices. Simply using soap and clean water to wash hands thoroughly or rubbing them clean with an alcohol-based sanitiser can reduce disease exposure tremendously. A hand sanitiser is perhaps the closest alternative to handwashing especially when a person is outside and does not have access to clean washrooms. The need of the hour is to spread the message and play our part in fighting not only Covid-19 but any future pandemic — after all, it is all in your hands.