Health is a very personal yet crucial aspect of life that needs much attention. Globally, trillions of dollars have been invested in finding cures, preventions and treatments to various diseases that could deteriorate one’s health. However, some of these diseases and agents causing severe consequences to our wellbeing, could be prevented with a simple hygiene practice.
Researchers at University of Colorado at Boulder conducted an analysis on dust samples collected from 1,200 US households and identified over 9,000 different species of microbes, bacteria and fungus. This implies that in the course of the day as individuals move around, touch objects or surfaces, and socialize, they are exposed to thousands of bacteria transmitting diseases such as tuberculosis, Hepatitis A and B, Measles, fever, Chlamydia, Influenza, Salmonella and ebola to mention a few. These diseases, some mild while others life threatening, could be prevented by hand washing.
Hand washing is the act of cleaning the hand to get rid of dirt, oil and microorganisms. It is often referred to as hand hygiene which includes all acts of cleaning the hand using water, soap, disinfectant, hand sanitizers etc. In October 2005, WHO launched the first Global Patient Safety Challenge (1st GPSC), aimed at reducing health care-associated infection (HCAI) worldwide. This was as a result of research showing that these common infections occurred majorly in developed, transitional and developing countries and a major cause of death and increased morbidity for hospitalized patients. The key action was “Clean Care is Safer Care” to promote hand hygiene globally and at all levels of health care.
In developing countries like Nigeria, where basic infection control measures are non-existent coupled with unfavourable factors like poor hygiene and sanitation, shortage of basic equipment, overcrowding and malnutrition, the risk of HCAI is several times higher than what is observed in developed countries. This is why it is important to promote the practise of hand washing. Thorough hand washing should include rubbing hands, scrubbing all surfaces including hands, wrists, between the fingers and under the fingernails. Harvard Health Publications (2007) reveals that hand washing should ideally last about 20 seconds, although 15 seconds of soap and water can also reduce bacterial count by approximately 90%. Hand washing can also prevent about 30% of diarrhoea-related sicknesses and about 20% of respiratory infections according to Centers for disease control and prevention (2018).
It is advisable to wash hand:
- Before eating.
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick.
- After using the toilet.
- After changing diaper.
- After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
- After touching or caring for a pet or an animal.
- Before and after treating a cut or wound.
- After touching or handling money.
- As many times as possible.
It is also important to be mindful of the soap used to wash hand. Sharing bar soaps could have its risk especially when one of the persons using it has a skin diseases. Peradventure soap and water is not available, a gel or wipe sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol can be used. However Sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs and their efficiency is based on the volume and the time on the hands. Sanitizers don’t remove pesticides, harmful chemicals and heavy metals which makes hand washing all the more important.
Hand washing is a game changer, and saves a lot of problems and cost of treatment. It is necessary to practise hand washing personally and encourage children to wash their hands as well. This could be included in their daily routine, and parents or guardians should ensure they wash their hands when they get back from school or the playground. Hand hygiene could also be promoted by the provision of hand sanitizers, wipes, liquid soap and water at strategic places in hospitals, companies and schools.
Centers for disease control and preventions (2018). Show Me the Science – Why Wash Your Hands? https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/why-handwashing.html (Accessed: 10 September 2019).
Harvard Health Publications (2007) Proper hand washing technique: how to wash your hands properly – Harvard Health. Available at: http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/proper-hand-washing (Accessed: 10 September 2019).
World Health Organisation (2009) WHO Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Health Care, a Summary. https://www.who.int/gpsc/5may/tools/who_guidelines-handhygiene_summary.pdf (Accessed September 2019)