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Between your hands and your health

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One of the most enduring lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic is the relationship between our hands and our health. It is simply amazing how an act as simple as handwashing could be a panacea to such a dare-devil pandemic.

Prior to now, many don’t really care what they do with their hands. In our society, while it is not unusual for people to engage in hand washing before eating and after visiting the toilet, it is not really a tradition to do the same with soap.

Ironically, it has been scientifically proven that filthy hands remain one of the easiest channels of spreading life infectious diseases. Bacteria and viruses spread easily and quickly through touch.

For instance, if someone with the flu covers his mouth when sneezing and simply wipes his hands afterwards, rather than washing them, germs would still be present. These germs would likely spread to any surfaces he touches and could transmit to anyone who has contact with the surface.

This explains why health educators often advocate for simple behavioural changes, such as handwashing with soap and water. Medical experts refer to handwashing with soap as a do- it – yourself vaccine that averts infections and saves lives.

Unknown to many, soaps remain one of the most expedient and essential hygiene tools for mankind. Most soaps have two main components – animal oils or fats and alkaline solution that enable the process of saponification. In contemporary time, technological and scientific breakthroughs have made soaps become more valuable, especially in terms of its medicinal uses.

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According to data, many children below five years die from diarrheal diseases and pneumonia, considered as the two top killers of children in the world. The two account for almost 3.5 million child death annually. But then, it has been established that handwashing with soap could prevent about 1 out of every 3 cases of diarrheal infections and almost 1 out of 6 episodes of respiratory infections like pneumonia.

Furthermore, this modest, cheap, handy action can, according to research, reduce the rate of mortality from these diseases by almost 25 and 50 per cent, respectively and can dramatically cut the number of young children who get sick.

Also, water plays a very important role in the maintenance of personal and physical hygiene, such as hand washing and environmental sanitation. According to UNICEF, handwashing with soap, alone, has the highest impact on reducing disease transmission, including diarrhoea, lowering the condition by about 47 percent. Sadly, awareness about the importance of this is abysmally low.

Currently, as the world battles the monstrous COVID-19 pandemic, frequent hand washing has become the in-thing. This further attests to the medicinal effects of handwashing.

Ironically, as simple as it is, and with all its health benefits, many rarely practice hand washing. This could be largely due to ignorance and carelessness. With the current global pandemic situation, it has, however, become imperative for all and sundry to fully embrace this simple but necessary habit.

The truth, according to health experts, is that regular hand washing with soap will save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention.

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According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, there are two methods to ensure good hand hygiene. These are ‘Hand Rubbing’ and ‘Hand Washing’.

Hand rubbing method should be used if you do not have any visible bodily or other infectious fluids or matter on your hands and does not include the use of water. For this, hand sanitizers are recommended. Hand washing is to be used if you have visible bodily or other infectious fluids or matter on your hands. Using either one of these methods will ensure you are free of germs.

It is important that more stakeholders come on board the campaign for handwashing and related matters. Though the targets of such a campaign should be all segments of society, children should be given the utmost priority. The reason for this is quite simple. Children are the most potent agents of change. They are eager to learn; they retain what they learn and are veritable instruments of instilling and promoting positive behavioural changes among their peers, in families and communities.

Children are the most vulnerable and fragile of human beings. Right from birth they need the care and guidance of adults, and because of their fragile nature they are most vulnerable to infections and diseases, hence the need for them to grow in a safe, healthy and hygienic environment.

Hence, it is important for all health stakeholders to give more considerations to children while planning their health outreaches. This is a major way forward towards ensuring and enhancing a virile health culture.

As the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic, the path to victory is not as complicated as the pandemic. A simple hygiene habit of regular handwashing with soap and clean water remains a potent way of staying safe.

Ogunbiyi is Deputy Director, Public Affairs, Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.


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