Environment: Making it better wherever you are
Did You Wash Your Hands?
Since 2008, October 15th has been designated as Global Handwashing Day.
Here in America, we might feel a bit complacent about even discussing the possibility that our national health habits could use some improvement. However, how many times have you been in a public bathroom in America and observed someone leave the toilet stall and walk straight out the door without washing their hands?
Handwashing with soap offers a major benefit toward the state of your health and those around you. Now more than ever, we need to promote this behavior in view of the global health threat posed by the Ebola crisis. Here are a few reasons to consider taken from Global Handwashing.org:
Why Handwashing with Soap?
Handwashing with soap is the most effective and inexpensive way to prevent diarrheal and acute respiratory infections, which take the lives of millions of children in developing countries every year. Together, they are responsible for the majority of all child deaths. Yet, despite its lifesaving potential, handwashing with soap is seldom practiced and difficult to promote.
Turning handwashing with soap before eating and after using the toilet into an ingrained habit could save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention, cutting deaths from diarrhea by almost half and deaths from acute respiratory infections by one-quarter. A vast change in handwashing behavior is critical to meeting the Millennium Development Goal of reducing deaths among children under the age of five by two-thirds by 2015.
Global Handwashing Day focuses on children because not only do they suffer disproportionately from diarrheal and respiratory diseases and deaths, but research shows that children – the segment of society so often the most energetic, enthusiastic, and open to new ideas – can also be powerful agents for changing behaviors like handwashing with soap in their communities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a guideline for adults and children on the art of handwashing:
When should you wash your hands?
• 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 touching garbage
What is the right way to wash your hands?
• Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
• Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
• Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice.
• Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
• Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
What should you do if you don't have soap and clean, running water?
Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of microbes on them in most situations. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of microbes on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.
“Handwashing with soap is one of the cheapest, most effective ‘vaccines’ against viral diseases, from the seasonal flu, to the common cold,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, head of UNICEF’s global water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes. “Our teams on the ground in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea are stressing the importance of handwashing as part of a raft of measures that are needed to halt the spread of Ebola. It is not a magic bullet, but it is a means of additional defence which is cheap and readily available.”
UNICEF has been leading in raising awareness about Ebola in the affected countries, working to counter misconceptions about the disease that put even more people at risk. UNICEF has also distributed protective supplies such as gowns, gloves, and bleach – as well as 1.5 million bars of soap in Sierra Leone alone, and millions more in Liberia and Guinea.
“It is clear there is no simple fix, and it is going to take a massive international effort to stem the tide of this disease,” said Wijesekera. “But it is crucial to get the word out on what measures can be taken now in the hardest hit areas, even as additional help continues to arrive from the outside. Handwashing is one of those measures.”