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Global Handwashing Day 2020: How Has Hand Hygiene Evolved Through The Years

Global Handwashing Day 2020: Over the years, hand washing with soap and water, and other forms of hand hygiene practices have been gaining recognition as a cost-effective, essential tool for achieving good health and infection prevention

Global Handwashing Day 2020: How Has Hand Hygiene Evolved Through The Years

Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor working in Vienna General Hospital, is known as the father of hand hygiene and Oliver Wendell Holmes in Boston, USA, established that hospital-acquired diseases were transmitted via the hands of health care workers. In 1846, he showed that doctors and medical students often went directly to the delivery suite after performing autopsies and had a disagreeable odour on their hands despite handwashing with soap and water before entering the clinic. Based on his observation, he developed a theory that those performing autopsies got ‘cadaverous particles’ on their hands, which they then carried from the autopsy room into the maternity ward.

A few years later in Scutari, Italy, the Crimean War brought about a new handwashing champion, Florence Nightingale. At a time when most people believed that infections were caused by foul odours called miasmas, Florence Nightingale implemented handwashing and other hygiene practices in the war hospital in which she worked.

Also Read: Coronavirus Outbreak Explained: Experts Guide On “How To Wash Hands Properly” And Why It Is So Crucial

Sadly, the hand hygiene practices promoted by Ignaz Semmelweis and Florence Nightingale were not widely adopted.

Over the years, hand washing with soap and water, and other forms of hand hygiene has been gaining recognition as a cost-effective, essential tool for achieving good health and infection prevention.

Subsequently, many studies have proved that hand hygiene helps in reducing hospital-acquired infections and is also essential for one’s good health.

There are three types of hand hygiene: Social, Antiseptic and Surgical depending on the requirement. In day to day use social hand hygiene is sufficient. The other two are required in patient care settings.

Also Read: Fighting COVID-19 With Hand Hygiene: Lack Of Water And Handwashing Infrastructure Pose Challenge For The Poor

Social Hand Hygiene

1. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? The “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.

2. Hand hygiene has to be performed before eating, after visiting the washrooms, after having visibly soiled hands, after touching any pet animals and others.

3. The aim of social (routine) handwashing with soap and warm water is to remove dirt and organic material, dead skin and most transient organisms. On visibly clean hands it can be undertaken using an alcohol hand rub, and this will remove transient organisms.

Importance Of Hand Hygiene

Thousands of people die every day around the world from infections acquired while receiving health care. Hands are the main pathways of germ transmission during health care. Hand hygiene is therefore the most important measure to avoid the transmission of harmful germs and prevent healthcare-associated infections. Inspite of its importance, the compliance to hand hygiene overall remained between 50 to 60 per cent.

Also Read: Soaps Or Sanitisers? What Fights Coronavirus Better

Hand Hygiene And Medical Glove Use

The use of gloves does not replace the need for cleaning your hands. Hand hygiene must be performed when appropriate regardless of the indications for glove use. Remove gloves to perform hand hygiene, when an indication occurs while wearing gloves. Discard gloves after each task and clean your hands – gloves may carry germs.

Also Read: A Lucknow Based Madrasa Has Benefits Of Handwashing In Its Curriculum

Hand Hygiene During COVID-19 Pandemic

Hand hygiene is an integral part of the prevention and transmission of coronavirus infection. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the overall compliance of hand hygiene has increased and it’s around 80 -85 per cent, more due to fear of the COVID-19 pandemic and also awareness across the globe. It has been found that most of the general public started keeping hand rub (alcohol based) with them while going out of their homes and use it after touching any surface.

It is very important that though pandemic fatigue is seen more now, there should not be a denial to hand hygiene and people should not stop performing hand hygiene at any point in time.

Also Read: Global Handwashing Day: Low-Cost ‘Social’ Robot Teaches Kerala Children Hygiene Lessons

Global Handwashing Day 2020: How Has Hand Hygiene Evolved Through The Years

Dr. Sonar Narula


Dr. Sonar Narula is working as Consultant Microbiologist at Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre. Dr. Naruala special interest in Infection Control and has more than twenty years of experience in the field. She has completed her graduation from LTMMC, Sion Mumbai and done her Post graduation ( MD. Microbiology) from Goa Medical College.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene



  1. Sinofresh

    October 22, 2020 at 3:20 pm

    Excellent! Your content is very informative.

  2. Sinofresh

    January 23, 2021 at 12:55 pm

    This post really helps me a lot and I have learned some new things from your blog.

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