Global Handwashing Day | Wash your hands, keep diseases at bay


October 15 is Global Handwashing Day; over the past six months we have learnt the importance of washing hands owing to COVID-19

Ever since the COVID-19 outbreak, governments, influencers and celebrities have been talking about the importance of handwashing in one voice. As over the last six months, videos, songs, memes and posters have been filling up our social media feeds; we as a country have re-learnt the importance of washing hands.

When Global Handwashing Partnership founded Global Handwashing Day, to be observed annually on October 15, in 2008, little did the world know that 2020 would turn out to be the year for hand hygiene.

This year, owing to COVID-19, Global Handwashing Day assumes greater relevance. The theme, ‘Hand Hygiene for All’, explains that a seemingly simple act as washing hands with soap is an easy, effective, and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives.

In the early days of the outbreak in India, the Telangana Police took ‘hand-washing’ lessons to the road in Hyderabad, showing motorists the right way to wash hands after Kerala Police turned to social media to spread the word. The viral video had six policemen, masked and dancing, to the ‘Kalakatha…’ song by Nanjyamma from the Malayalam film Ayyappanum Koshyum.

A public handwash facility at the Ernakulam Junction railway station in Kerala

A public handwash facility at the Ernakulam Junction railway station in Kerala
| Photo Credit: H_Vibhu

As people reached out for hand sanitisers, they are now being told that washing hands was a more effective means of prevention. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (India), keeping hands clean can prevent one in three diarrhoeal illnesses and one in five respiratory infections, such as cold or the flu. “Hand washing is an infection control practice. This year we have been training hospital staff and bystanders in the correct method of washing hands. It helps significantly to reduce infection therefore nullifies the requirement to take antibiotics,” says Dr Anitha A, Superintendent General Hospital, Ernakulam.

State governments, volunteer groups and private business went about installing moveable sinks and soap in public spaces such as markets, bus stands, and railway stations, on roadsides too. For instance, in Kerala, this was done as part of the ‘Break the Chain’ campaign which included wearing masks. Even today there are a few sinks and soaps that have been placed in public spaces.

In fact, to mark the day, schools under the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation have been asked to raise awareness among students on the importance washing hands. Schools have been asked to demonstrate the right way of washing hands and urge students to spread the message in their communities as well.

Chairman of Rotary District, 3201, Madhusudhan R talks about WINS, a ‘Wash in Schools’ project they have been conducting for the last five years. The regions of Coimbatore Urban, Palakkad, Thrissur, Ernakulam and Idukki come under the purview of the district which has 145 clubs and 5000 members. Each club has adopted one school.

Hand-washing stations comprising four taps and accompanying soap were set up in the adopted schools of the Rotary districts. “Children being the best teachers for their parents we started the campaign in schools. To bring about awareness of the importance of washing hands the right method of hand-washing was taught to students. Teachers were trained in it; this helps reduce infection at source,” says Madhusudhan.

‘Handwashing’ tutorials and playlists for the prescribed 20-second duration for a clean hand-wash are still a rage. Handwash playlists abound with songs such as Lou Bega’s ‘Mambo No: 5’, ‘Happy Birthday to you’ sung twice, ‘Let it Go’ from the Disney film Frozen, Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ to Britney Spears’ ‘Oops I did it Again’…the point is, whichever be your song just wash your hands.

(With inputs from Priyadershini S and Anasuya Menon)

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