Hand Hygiene: The Dos and Don’ts of Handwashing
India’s concern about novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, is at its highest level yet. The World Health Organization is warning that countries should “do everything you would do in preparing for a pandemic ’’. Many people are now considering the effect of the virus on them personally—and wondering how they can minimize their chances of being infected.
The good news is that there is a behaviour that clearly helps, good hand hygiene, in particular washing your hands. For example, official guides for managing pandemic influenza emphasize hand hygiene as a way of decreasing transmission (Influenza and the novel coronavirus are different, but we can learn from flu preparation and protocols). Many studies conducted in the past have proved that handwashing is effective in removing viruses. Hand sanitizer (alcohol-based hand rubs) can also be effective for some types of influenza but handwashing has broader benefits and, therefore, is the option that needs to be practiced among all people.
The main barrier of not washing hands may be lack of awareness about the effectiveness of soap, water, and scrubbing. People may simply not realize how specific handwashing actions can prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
Awareness may also not be enough on its own. We do need to consider availability of infrastructure. In some instances, there are practical barriers to handwashing— absence of water and soap. People may be aware of what they should do but be unable to follow through. One obvious solution is to increase the provision of alcohol-based hand sanitizer dispensers at locations where handwashing is infeasible. Doing this has shown to improve hand hygiene on its own.
WaterAid has been promoting hand washing with soap and water as part of our hygiene behaviour change programme. To combat COVID-19 spread, it is critical to make people put their knowledge into practice -- washing hands with soap and water. Now is the moment for all of us to act together to change people’s behaviour on a massive scale.