“Wash your hands frequently with soap under running water” is probably the most common and important statement the world has heard in the last two years since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Handwashing even before the outbreak of the Covid-19 is especially important before and after having a meal, after using the washroom and after coughing or sneezing.
Over the years, handwashing has been considered the most cost-effective public health intervention for reducing the burden of diseases like cholera, diarrhoea, malnutrition and worm infestation.
Hand washing, also known as hand hygiene, is the act of cleaning hands with soap under running water to remove dirt’s, viruses, bacteria, microorganisms, grease, or other harmful and unwanted substances stuck to the hands.
Drying of the washed hands is part of the process as wet and moist hands could be easily contaminated.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the hands are the main pathways of germ transmission and thus hand hygiene is the single most important measure to avoid the spread of infections and keep people healthy.
Estimates from the WHO have shown that in 2019, 5.2 million children under-five years died mostly from preventable and treatable causes.
Children aged one to 11 months accounted for 1.5 million of these deaths while those from one to four years accounted for 1.3 million deaths, newborns (under 28 days) accounted for the remaining 2.4 million deaths, and an additional 500,000 older children (five to nine years) died in 2019.
The WHO said the leading causes of death in children under-five years are preterm birth complications, pneumonia, congenital anomalies, diarrhoea and malaria, all of which can be prevented or treated with proper hand hygiene, adequate nutrition, safe water and food.
The Ghana Demographic and Health Survey reveals that while more than half of Ghanaian households have a designated place for washing hands, only about one household out of every five has water or other cleansing agents available at home.
Public health experts have, however, said washing hands with soap was important as it was regarded as one of the most effective ways to avoid diarrhoea and other sanitation-related illnesses.
As Ghana joins the world to observe the Global Hand washing Day on October 15, Dr Dacosta Aboagye, the Director of Health Promotion at the Ghana Health Service (GHS), said handwashing had served Ghana well as no single case of cholera had been recorded since 2020.
Similarly, diarrhoea cases had reduced by 30 per cent within the same period, he said, and cautioned the public to wash their hands frequently with soap under running water at least four times a day.
For World Hand Washing Day 2021, the WHO calls on health care workers and facilities to achieve effective hand hygiene action at the point of care.
The point of care refers to the place where three elements come together: the patient, the health care worker, and care or treatment involving contact with the patient or their surroundings.
The WHO says to be effective in preventing transmission of infectious microorganisms during health care delivery, hand hygiene should be performed when it is needed in the most effective way by using the right technique with readily available products at the point of care.
If world leaders do not continue to invest in handwashing, we will continue to see more than a million children under five years old dying unnecessarily every single year around the world, says the WHO.
The Global Handwashing Day is an annual global advocacy day dedicated to handwashing with soap as an easy, effective, and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives.
The Day was founded by the Global Handwashing Partnership, which provides an opportunity to design, test, and replicate creative ways to encourage people to wash their hands with soap at critical times.
It also spreads the word about handwashing, build sinks and tippy taps, and demonstrates the simplicity and value of clean hands.
This year’s celebration is on the theme: “Our Future is at Hand – Let’s Move Forward Together.”
To practice proper hand washing, first, wet your hands with water and apply enough soap to create a good lather, rub your palms together, rub the back of your hands, scrub between your fingers, clean the back of your fingers, clean your thumbs, rub your palm with your fingertips, wash each wrist with the opposite hand, and dry your hand with a clean tissue.