TODAY, Friday 15 October 2010, is Global Handwashing Day, which highlights how the regular practice of this simple hygiene habit could help save the lives of millions of children every year and ultimately, contribute to a healthier South Africa. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that worldwide at least 3.5 million children under the age of 5 die each year from diarrhoea and acute lower respiratory tract infections, with most of these deaths occurring in developing countries including South Africa. This despite the fact that routine, proper handwashing with soap has been shown to be an extremely effective intervention, capable of significantly reducing the prevalence of diarrhoea and respiratory infections among vulnerable young children.
According to the Global Hygiene Council, a body comprising some of the world’s most eminent medical specialists established in response to the growing rate of bacterial infections worldwide, only three out of five people claim their children always wash their hands before eating. Proper handwashing is not just an important message for children, says Professor John Oxford, Chairman of the Global Hygiene Council and Professor of Virology at St Barth-olomews, The Royal London Hospital and Queen Marys School of Medicine and Dentistry.
With an alarming 60% of people admitting they don’t wash their hands properly after using the toilet, sneezing or handling pets and food, and 24% reporting they usually only wash their hands with running water and not soap, it is clear that hygiene education lies at the heart of improving the health of all, young and old. (Western Cape study)
The benefits of good hygiene including handwashing are further backed up by a study conducted by the Global Hygiene Council comprising 1250 households in the Western Cape, which revealed that illnesses in homes that practiced basic good hygiene habits, were reduced by up to 75%. The study indicated that 80% of gastrointestinal infections, including vomiting and diarrhoea, as well as 70% of respiratory infections and skin infections, can be prevented through good hygiene habits. These findings are verified by research from 17 other international studies, all of which confirm that the simple act of handwashing reduces the risk of contracting a stomach bug by at least 47%.
The volume of unequivocal evidence has prompted the WHO to argue that routine handwashing with soap and water is the most important hygiene measure which prevents the spread of infection, says Professor Barry Schoub, Executive Director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD). Campaigns such as Global Handwashing Day are critical because although regular handwashing is such a basic practice, so many people still neglect to do so.
“I urge all South Africans to embrace this important public health procedure and in so doing, help protect themselves from a variety of nasty infectious diseases. Let’s also not forget that, while this day is important, proper handwashing is a hygiene habit that needs to be practised every day. South Africa’s contribution An especially important campaign for South Africa, where poor hygiene contributes to an unacceptably high child mortality rate, this day is devoted to raising awareness of the importance of proper and frequent handwashing with soap.”
Backed by an array of public and private organisations including the Department of Health, the day will be marked with events at thousands of schools, medical centres and communities around South Africa. Supporting the Department of Health’s campaign to reduce child mortality rates in South Africa by 60% by 2015, anti-bacterial home and personal hygiene range Dettol has embarked on a series of community-based educational initiatives. Through these initiatives, over 4.3 million South African hands now follow the 6 Step way to Clean Hands method. Dettol is committed to making South Africa a healthier, stronger nation and continues to teach 2400 mothers and children how to wash their hands properly every day.