Need and importance of Handwashing during COVID-19 Pandemic

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Dr Ishani Barooah

Global Handwashing Day (GHD) is an international handwashing promotion campaign to motivate and mobilize people around the world to improve their handwashing habits. Washing hands at critical points during the day and washing with soap are both important.

First Global Handwashing Day took place on 15 October 2008. Handwashing with soap is very effective and the least expensive way to prevent diarrhea and acute respiratory infections. Pneumonia, a major ARI (acute respiratory infection), is the number one cause of mortality among children under five years old, killing an estimated 1.8 million children per year. Diarrhea and pneumonia together account for almost 3.5 million child deaths annually. Handwashing with soap is estimated to reduce cases of diarrhea by 30% and respiratory infections by 21% in children under the age of five. It is important to make handwashing into a habit. Good handwashing with soap before eating and after using the toilet into a regular habit can save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention, cutting deaths from diarrhea by almost half and deaths from acute respiratory infections by one-quarter.

Aims and Objectives:

The stated aims of Global Handwashing Day are to:

  • Foster and support a general culture of handwashing with soap in all societies
  • Shine a spotlight on the state of handwashing in each country
  • Raise awareness about the benefits of handwashing with soap.

What are the 7 Steps of Hand Washing?

Step 1: Wet your hands and apply enough liquid soap to create a good lather.

Step 2: Rub your hands palm to palm in circular motions. Rotate clockwise and anticlockwise.

Step 3: With your fingers linked through the other hand, use your right palm to rub the back of your left hand.

Step 4: Link your fingers together, facing each other, into clasped hands. Then rub your palms and fingers together.

Step 5: Cup your fingers together, with your right hand over and your left hand under. With your fingers interlocked, rub the backs of them against your palms.

Step 6: Enclose your right hand around your left thumb and rub as you rotate it.

Step 7: Rub your fingers over your left palm in a circular motion.

The following handwashing facts show just how easily hands can spread bacteria:

  • Globally, only one in five people wash their hands after using the bathroom.
  • The average office worker’s hands come into contact with 10 million bacteria per day.
  • An estimated 61% of healthcare professionals do not clean their hands correctly.
  • Around 50% of hospital-acquired infections can be easily avoided through better hand hygiene.
  • Contaminated hands can transfer viruses to more than 5 surfaces or 14 other objects.
  • Damp hands spread 1,000 times more bacteria than dry hands.
  • Bacteria can stay alive on hands for up to 3 hours.

Handwashing study finds coronavirus can stay on the skin up to 9 hours: What to do?

Handwashing has been recommended as one of the key measures to reduce the spread of the virus. Washing hands at least six times a day, for at least 20 seconds, and using an alcohol-based hand rub in case a sink is not accessible has been recommended since the beginning of the outbreak.

What can we do to reduce the spread of COVID-19?

Given the evidence that we have about how long the virus can survive on different surfaces, here are some things you can do to avoid its spread.

  • Wash hands frequently, especially when you go out of the house, or come in.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand rub every time you touch something out in the public spaces like door handles and knobs.
  • Clean doorknobs, handles at home frequently.
  • Clean the doorbell with disinfectants frequently.
  • Clean your phone with disinfectant wipes.
  • Wear full-sleeved clothing when going out, and change right after you return.
  • Keep dirty clothes away from clean ones.
  • Spray disinfectant on boxes and parcels that you receive from outside, especially those in card box boxes. Try to keep the boxes away for a while before you touch them.
  • Follow social distancing, wearing of masks, and other protocols as guided by different health agencies.

(The author is a Resident Medical Officer at Sanjevani Hospital, Maligaon, Guwahati)

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