If I told you that the cheapest and most effective way to prevent disease infection is something you have done before, with materials you likely have at home, what would you guess? I am talking about handwashing. You have probably heard of it, but do you know just how important it is?
IMPORTANCE OF HANDWASHING
Every year, millions of people, especially children under 5 years old, die from intestinal and lung infections. Proper handwashing with soap at key moments can reduce up to 50% of these intestinal infections and 25% of these lung infections! Therefore, handwashing is necessary for good health and nutrition, which in turn leads to improved outcomes in school, work, and social life.
Soap is not just for laundry, bathing, and washing dishes. Handwashing with just water is better than not handwashing at all, but soap is extremely important. Soap helps to wash away dirt, grease, and natural oils on the skin that can contain disease-causing agents (bacteria, viruses, and parasites). Any soap is effective as long as it used properly.
To wash hands properly, follow these steps:
1. Wet hands
2. Cover wet hands with soap
3. Scrub all over hands for 20 seconds, including the palms, back of hands, fingers, between fingers, and under fingernails. Try counting at least once to see how long 20 seconds is!
4. Rinse hands with clean running water
5. Dry hands with a clean cloth or by waving in the air
The temperature of the water does not matter, but it should be clean. If soap is scarce or unavailable, diluted soapy water or wood ash can be used instead.
Just as important as how, is when to wash hands.
It is important to wash hands at these times:
– after defecating (going to the toilet)
– after cleaning children (especially their poo)
– before preparing, handling, and eating food
– after coughing or sneezing on your hands
– after taking care of or coming in contact with sick people
– after coming in contact with animals
The first three moments– after defecating and cleaning children, and before handling food – are especially important. Human poo is the main source of diarrhoea-causing bacteria and virus. In fact, 1 gram of human poo can contain 1 million bacteria and 10 million viruses! Proper handwashing will help to prevent these bacteria and viruses from infecting you and others.
The benefits of handwashing are greatest when handwashing becomes a regular habit. Signs posted by toilets and kitchens are good reminders to wash hands after defecating and before handling food. It is important to have handwashing stations at convenient locations to promote the habit, such as outside toilets. Handwashing stations can be as simple as a hollow gourd or plastic bottle, covered and hung on a rope, that pours a small amount of water when tipped – with a bit of soap tied to it, of course! Everyone benefits when people wash their hands, so teach and remind children, family, and friends about handwashing for a healthier community!