By Vikas Bagaria
Lack of hand hygiene is a global problem and almost 1.8 million children under 5 years of age die annually due to preventable diseases such as diarrhea and pneumonia. The problem is more accurate in countries with large impoverished populations such as India. While most of the people do clean their hands with water, it is shocking to know that barely 19% of the people wash their hands after using the toilet. The low number of people using soap for handwashing is the main cause behind various diseases. Until recently, lack of awareness was also a key reason behind people not focusing on hand hygiene. However, the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak has sensitized people in a major way. It has been proven how handwashing with soap and water is a major tool in the prevention of various infections including Covid-19.
Hands serve as the conduit for various microbes including disease-causing bacteria and virus. For instance, when a person touches food with unwashed hands either while cooking or consuming, the germs get transferred to the food and might enter the body. In certain food items, especially when they are raw, the germs get multiplied and can cause enough contamination to make people fall sick. Further, unwashed hands can transfer the germs to any surface that they touch including table or counter tops, gadgets, furniture, utensils, doorknobs, and handrails etc. These then transfer to a healthy person when they touch the contaminated surface. This is also one of the major routes through which the Covid-19 virus has been spreading all over the world. This virus enters the body when a person touches their eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
Preventing diseases through handwashing
One of the best, easiest and most effective ways of preventing communicable diseases like diarrhea, pneumonia or viral infections such as Covid-19 is to practice hand hygiene and washing our hands regularly with soap and clean water. Apart from water and soap, alcohol- based hand sanitizers can also be used to disinfect the hands, especially in areas where water is not easily available.
Benefits of hand hygiene
Regular washing of hands is known to reduce the occurrence of diarrhea by up to 40% and the respiratory problems caused by viral infections by 16% to 21%. Further, it is known to bring down the gastrointestinal illness cases among children by 29% to 57%. It can also protect people from a potentially fatal infection like the Covid-19.
Good hand hygiene practices can reduce the likelihood of various pandemics and microbial diseases among the public. Simply using soap and clean water to wash the hands thoroughly or rubbing them clean with an alcohol-based sanitizer can reduce disease exposure tremendously. A hand sanitizer is perhaps the closest alternative to handwashing especially when a person is travelling and does not have access to clean washrooms. When observed in conjunction with other hygienic practices such as home and neighborhood hygiene, physical distancing from the viral infection patients, handhygiene can become a game changer for the global populations. By preventing such microbial infections through handhygiene, we can also reduce our dependence on antibiotic drugs. It is observed in many cases that regular consumption of antibiotics leads to the development of resistance among the microbes. Such a situation can make the treatment futile.With handwashing, we not only get rid of the microbes and prevent them from turning antibiotic resistant, but also keep them at bay.
(The author is the Founder of Pee Safe. Views expressed are personal.)