Clean Your Hands — It Saves Lives

I must say that since moving back to Nigeria a few months ago, I have been impressed with how often I have seen hand washing stations or the availability of hand sanitizers at entrances to major stores, churches, banks etc. These changes have been mainly in response to Covid-19 and it may have been a blessing in disguise as Nigeria ranks very low in the access to and utilization of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Services. Millions of Nigerians lack access to basic water, sanitation and hygiene services and as of 2019, 94% of Nigerians were said to not practice proper hand washing according to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Today, May 5th, is World Hand Hygiene Day and it’s a great opportunity to encourage everyone to invest in proper hand hygiene habits as the average person touches their face at least 23 times per hour, infecting themselves and spreading infections to their loved ones. It remains the single most effective way to stop the spread of all kinds of infection.

How — Washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is how we remove dirt, germs and harmful chemicals from our hands. Hand sanitizers, with at least 60% alcohol, are also effective when soap and water is not readily available.

When — The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the following as critical times when you should wash up.

Before, during and after preparing food

Before eating food

Before and after caring for someone who is sick

Before and after treating a cut or wound

After using the toilet

After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet

After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing

After touching an animal, animal feed or animal waste

After handling pet food or pet treats

After touching garbage

Where — Washing up properly should be done, not just at home but is essential in various other organizational and community settings such as

1. Healthcare Facilities — According to UNICEF, only 7% of health facilities in Nigeria have basic water and sanitation services. Hand washing is compulsory in health facilities to prevent hospital acquired infections, a major public health concern. Medical practitioners, patients and even visitors must be encouraged to practice hand washing regularly.

2. Schools — Only 14% of schools in Nigeria have basic water supply and sanitation services and a majority lack appropriate basic hygiene services for each gender. Given the close daily interactions that occur in schools, it is vitally important that both students and teachers must practice proper hand washing regularly. Furthermore, regular handwashing is said to improve attendance of children in schools and help improve child development.

3. Places of Work /Facilities — You are in the office or a facility from 9am to 5pm or longer, sharing the same space with many others and touching the same appliances like doors, printers, computers, packages, lab instruments, machines or more. Places of work and facilities including gym, salons, spas etc. should have ample WASH services to prevent infections being carried to loved ones.

4. Markets & Motor Parks — Markets and motor parks in Nigeria lack access to combined basic water, sanitation and hygiene services. This is especially troubling in a country where Nigerians continue to practice open defecation. Access to WASH services in open areas such as markets and motor parks can drastically reduce the spread of infections and the number of people who get sick by diarrhea and respiratory illnesses.

Why — We have talked about the importance of hand washing in preventing infections, however a major reason why hand hygiene is vital is that it is key to fighting a growing resistance to antibiotics. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), resistance to antibiotics is one of the greatest threats to global health, food security and development. Antibiotic resistance occurs when germs develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them allowing them to continue to grow. The infections caused by these germs are difficult, sometimes impossible to treat and often require extended hospital stays, additional follow-up doctor visits, and costly and toxic alternatives.

Hand washing or use of hand sanitizers should not end with Covid-19 in-fact it must continue and be championed in every home, organization and by policy makers. It’s 20 seconds and it save lives — clean your hands!

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