Global Hand-washing Day is a stark reminder of how a simple habit can save lives
The observance of Global Hand-washing Day has come a long way since its inception in 2008, focusing strongly on the awareness of its gains and significance through innumerable campaigns, events, and multiple social media channels every year.
Since the outbreak of Covid-19 last year, hand-washing itself has come into relevance, and has become the epitome of one of the simplest and crucial ways to prevent and outlast the spread of corona and other deadly diseases. This year’s theme, “Our future is at hand -- let’s move forward” seeks to raise awareness and understanding about the importance of making soap and water available globally in public places, schools, and especially in health care facilities.
Thoroughly cleaning hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rubs helps prevent a range of diseases, including biggest killers of under-five globally: Pneumonia and diarrhoea. The two diseases combined kill approximately 1,250,000 young children each year globally (World Health Organization). Hand-washing is estimated to prevent at least 25%-40% of it. It also prevents the spread of infections like influenza and Ebola.
In central and southern Asia, the proportion of schools with no hygiene services decreased from 46% in 2015 to 23% in 2019. This means by 2019, there were 3.2 million fewer children in Bangladesh with no hygiene services at their school than in 2015, according to WHO estimates. Bangladesh has been able to increase coverage of basic hygiene services by 12 percentage points and halved the proportion of schools with no hand-washing facilities or no water.
But the proportion of schools with limited services has only reduced by six percentage points from 13% to 7%, according to Unicef. As per the national hygiene estimate, basic hygiene with the availability of water and soap rose from 42% in 2015 to 58% in 2020 in Bangladesh.
Since last year, globally we have come across a myriad of behavioural change communication campaigns due to Covid-19, stressing greatly how practising hand hygiene through hand-washing can save lives.
More importantly, one common tipping point touched by most communication materials even before the pandemic hit was how children are the most vulnerable. They have always been at the centre of such hygiene educational campaigns. It goes without saying that building healthy hygiene practices in children is a future investment.
BRAC has been contributing to this specific component greatly, covering 250 sub-districts (upazilas) since 2006. In one of its initiatives, BRAC WASH program covered about 6,000 secondary schools all over Bangladesh conducting a soap drive day where each child was asked to bring a bar of soap and wash hands on the school premises along with their peers. Along with this innovative drive, BRAC also conducted hygiene sessions in schools along with the establishing hand-washing stations during the deadly Covid-19 spread in different rural and urban communities.
Moreover, WASH has been working vastly on ensuring safe sanitation services and securing safe water sources in hard-to-reach rural, coastal, and underserved urban areas along with the development of self-sustainable entrepreneurs aligning its strategic interventions with SDG-6.
As we continue to move forward, let this Global Hand-washing Day serve as a stark reminder that an act as simple as hand-washing takes only 20 seconds and can become the first action of protecting and saving lives for ourselves and our loved ones.
There are indications that we might come across deadlier and new kinds of water-borne viruses and infections in the coming years. Among all the noise for hand-washing, the momentum gained is likely to become a forgotten ritual unless sustained by relevant government bodies, non-governmental organizations, school boards, local government representatives, health professionals, and community leaders.
Simply by keeping hand hygiene practice at the forefront of our everyday basic cleaning habits, we can pitch into the progression of safe and effective health care for all.
Md Akramul Islam is a development sector professional with experience of 32 years. He is also an adjunct professor of James P Grant School of Public Health at BRAC University. He is currently leading as the Director of Communicable Diseases and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Program, BRAC.