October 15th is observed as Global Handwashing Day across the globe every year. The day was founded by the Global Handwashing Partnership and was determined by the UN General Assembly in 2008. It focuses on the importance of hand wash and comes up with “creative ways to encourage people to wash their hands with soap at critical times”.
In 2008, the first World Handwashing Day was celebrated in more than 70 nations. More than 120 million children across the world participated that year. All children washed their hands with soap. Since then, people are observing the day to spread awareness about “washing hands, build sinks and tippy taps, and demonstrate the simplicity and value of clean hands.”
Global Handwashing Day 2021
While washing hands before eating have always been a way to maintain cleanliness, now with the raging pandemic, handwashing has become a mandate not only before eating but at all times prior to touching eyes, nose, mouth or face. In line with this, the theme for Global Handwashing Day 2021 is “Our Future is at Hand – Let’s Move Forward Together.”
Handwashing to prevent the spread of communicable diseases
A number of infectious diseases can be spread from one person to another by contaminated hands. Some of these diseases are listed below.
Norovirus is the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis in humans and it can affect people of all ages. It’s transmitted when people don’t wash their hands and worryingly, they can spread very quickly within large groups of people in close quarters. This is why when one person gets ill, entire households or offices often catch it too.
The best way to stop noroviruses from spreading or occurring in the first place is to wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom, before preparing food and to avoid touching your nose and mouth.
Respiratory illnesses are usually spread via droplets that are breathed, sneezed or coughed into the air by someone who has the illness. While sneezing and coughing help to spread illnesses, poor hand washing techniques are a big culprit as well.
Common respiratory illnesses caused by poor hand hygiene include the common cold, influenza, chickenpox and meningitis.
We often hear of infections being transmitted in hospitals and this is often the result of staff and patients not washing their hands. Naturally, there’s a huge amount of infections present in hospitals and if staff don’t wash their hands between seeing patients or if people with an infection aren’t practising good hand hygiene, they can very easily pass their illness onto others.
Some of the most common nosocomial infections which can be spread by germs and bacteria on our hands include MRSA and E.coli.
Hepatitis A is a viral infection that can cause severe symptoms including problems with the liver, jaundice, abdominal pain, fever and fatigue. It’s often spread via food that has been contaminated by people preparing it who haven’t washed their hands after using the bathroom.
According to the Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, UK, digesting even microscopic traces of contaminated faecal matter can cause transmission of the disease. Practicing good hand washing techniques is one of the easiest and most effective ways of preventing illnesses from spreading. This is something that is particularly important in the workplace where large groups of people can catch the same infection
Handwashing to battle the rise in antibiotic resistance
Preventing sickness reduces the number of antibiotics people use and the likelihood that antibiotic resistance will develop. Handwashing can prevent about 30% of diarrhoea-related sicknesses and about 20% of respiratory infections (e.g., colds). Antibiotics often are prescribed unnecessarily for these health issues. Reducing the number of these infections by washing hands frequently helps prevent the overuse of antibiotics—the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance around the world. Handwashing can also prevent people from getting sick with germs that are already resistant to antibiotics and that can be difficult to treat.
Statistics that Highlight How Not washing hands harms children around the world
1. About 1.8 million children under the age of 5 die each year from diarrheal diseases and pneumonia, the top two killers of young children around the
2. Handwashing with soap could protect about 1 out of every 3 young children who get sick with diarrhoea and almost 1 out of 5 young children with respiratory infections like pneumonia.
3. Although people around the world clean their hands with water, very few use soap to wash their hands. Washing hands with soap removes germs much more effectively.
4. Handwashing education and access to soap in schools can help improve attendance.
5. Good handwashing early in life may help improve child development in some settings.
6. Estimated global rates of handwashing after using the toilet are only 19% as of 2020.