Are you in safe hands?

Hand washing has to be one of the most effective means of disease prevention that is grossly underrated. Many communicable diseases, especially those spread via direct contact, can be averted by this single act.

The world is in the middle of a pandemic. The novel Covid-19 virus has been ravaging the earth. It’s nearly six months down the line, and still one of our biggest arsenal against this invisible foe is hand washing.

Although, I’m sure we must have been hearing these since elementary (primary) school; this article would be incomplete without good reasons why we should wash our hands.

Girl handwashing

Germs are mostly ubiquitous. They can be picked up from anywhere and anything. Our hands, arguably of all the body parts are the most at risk for picking up germs and microbes. They touch so many surfaces throughout the course of the day, as well as other body parts like the face. Hence, they are capable of self-infection and spread of infections to other people. This can be done either by directly touching another person, or by transferring these germs to another surface. From here these germs could be picked up by a different individual. The burden of childhood illnesses (especially gastrointestinal) would be less, if only we taught our children proper hand washing. The world (Africa in particular) still battles antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics are prescribed for a lot of diarrhea illnesses, often times unnecessarily. Most of these diseases could have simply been avoided by proper hand washing.

Again, the ongoing pandemic must have exposed us to the proper hand washing techniques but it can’t be overemphasized. Also, whatever is worth doing, is worth doing well. So if we must wash our hands, we might as well just do it the proper way. The WHO has a beautiful pictorial description of the steps. Here they are listed out.

  • Wet hands with running water
  • Apply enough soap to cover all hand surfaces
  • Rub hands palm to palm
  • Scrub the back of your hands, between your fingers, don’t forget under your nails
  • Scrub for at least 20 seconds. You can hum the “happy birthday” song twice
  • Rinse under running water.
  • Dry hands with a towel or air dry.

Clean, running water with soap, although the preferred choice may not always be available. Alcohol based hand sanitizers that contain more than 60% alcohol can be used in lieu of hand washing.

Now we have seen yet again how we go about washing our hands, in what scenarios do we employ this?

  • Definitely after using the toilet or handling waste or garbage
  • Before, during and after preparation of meals
  • Before and after eating meals
  • After coughing, sneezing, blowing your nose
  • After playing with pets or animals
  • After returning from the market, handling money.
  • After caring for the sick, changing diapers.

There are many more, but start with these and you should be on track protecting yourself and your loved ones from deadly infectious diseases.

**Michael Imeh, a DHI volunteer writes from Lagos, Nigeria

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