It may sound far fetched, but the simple act of washing hands with soap and water can save a life. The UK-based Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms this in a study conducted by them, which states that if everyone in the world routinely washed their hands, a million deaths a year could be prevented. However, despite having access to clean water, many people around the globe fail to wash their hands after using the restroom, preparing a meal or dealing with a messy kitchen.
Gulf News reader Lekshmi Jagan has come across such people.
She said: “I have seen many people walk away after using a public washroom without washing their hands. The women must surely be aware that the same washroom has been used by many other people before them. There must be a lot of germs and the chances of picking up an illness are high. Despite that they do not wash their hands.”
Qudsiya Shafi, a homemaker based in Dubai, agrees.
She said: “I have seen such behaviour whenever I visit the public washrooms in malls. There are young girls, who after using the washroom, start applying make-up or just wet their hands and start fixing their hair rather than first washing their hands with soap and water. I am more concerned with mothers who don’t ensure that their little ones wash their hands after using washrooms or eating food. We should instill hygienic habits in children from a young age as we know that children touch different surfaces during the day and then without washing they eat food and put those hands in their mouths, which could lead to them falling ill.
“At the food courts in malls, I find people who bring food trays to their table and start eating right away and once they are done, they just get up and get on with shopping. There seems to be no concept of people washing their hands before or after the meal. Maybe the mall authorities could put up sanitisers and wash basins in food court areas so as to maintain hygiene.”
Sairah Zakir, a Dubai resident, is worried about shaking hands with people because she is constantly wondering whether they have washed their hands or not.
She said: “I have seen many people not washing their hands when coming out of public washrooms. Standing with such people becomes very uncomfortable and shaking hands with them then is another story. Usually in the office environment people take good care of their health so they eat a balanced diet and they take care of their teeth and that’s why they brush after every meal. Sadly, they don’t think about the bacteria and germs on the surfaces around them, which could be harmful to their health.”
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), many foodborne diseases are spread by contaminated hands. Washing hands with soap is thus the single most effective and inexpensive intervention for preventing diarrheal diseases and pneumonia, which currently accounts for 3.5 million child deaths annually.
Studies conducted by WHO show that the simple act of washing one’s hands with soap and water reduces incidents of diarrhoea by up to 35 per cent and the risk of respiratory infections by 16 per cent. It can also reduce the number of pneumonia-related infections in children under the age of five by 50 per cent.
Anupriya Dayal, a teacher based in Dubai, is concerned about the students in her class and their unhygienic habits.
She said: “Many children do not wash their hands before and after eating. Some teachers also have this habit, instead of teaching their students the right thing.”
Mohammad Abdul Mannan, a driving instructor based in Abu Dhabi, is a father of three children and is also worried about their health.
He said: “Handwashing is very important for everyone, especially children. After playing either in or outside the house, children tend to get hungry and will quickly want to start eating, without washing their hands. As a result, a lot of germs can easily reach their stomach and they could fall ill. My children haven fallen ill several times due to consuming food without washing their hands.”
Thousands of people around the world die every day from infections acquired while receiving health care, with hands being the main pathways of germ transmission. Hand hygiene is therefore stated as the most important measure to avoid the transmission of harmful germs and prevent infections. To increase awareness about handwashing, the Global Handwashing Day is now marked every year on October 15. The aim is to make people aware of the importance of washing one’s hands with soap and to design creative ways to encourage people to wash their hands at critical times.
The first time the day was marked was in 2008, when over 120 million children around the world washed their hands with soap in more than 70 countries. The day was founded by the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing, a coalition of international stakeholders who work to promote handwashing.
Umbereen Rahman, a retired teacher based in Dubai, participated in activities for the day while she was still teaching.
She said: “In the UAE, a campaign to create awareness has proved to be beneficial and quite successful. Schools, hospitals and many other public places have slogans and posters explaining the correct way of washing hands and the negative impacts of not doing so. It was at a nursery school in Dubai where I taught for a short while and later at the hospital where I was for several months that I learnt how vital it was to teach people, children and adults alike, about the importance of washing hands to ensure that one is free from contacting germs that could be potentially harmful to one’s health. I used this learning experience to spread the word to my young students through songs and poems and to friends and colleagues through discussions.”