New Delhi: Our hands are the main pathways of germ transmission, according to World Health Organization (WHO), thus, handwashing is the single most important measure to avoid the spread of infections and keep people healthy. WHO states that handwashing after going to the toilet or before eating can reduce the risk of children getting diarrhoea by more than 40 per cent. UNICEF further adds that handwashing is likely to reduce the chances of COVID-19 infection by 36 per cent. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention adds that if everyone routinely washed their hands, 1 million deaths a year can be prevented.
As the world observes Global Handwashing Day on October 15, this year’s theme is “Unite for Universal Hand Hygiene.” Recently during a session on hygiene habits that kill germs during the 12-hour Banega Swasth India telethon, panelists comprising celebrities, social activists and experts all highlighted the importance of handwashing in building a swasth and healthier society.
Here are the highlights of the session on why handwashing is fundamental to good health, disease prevention and saving lives:
Actor Sidharth Malhotra said,
Handwashing is a must to keep the society healthy. After COVID-19 pandemic, handwashing habits have improved across the country, from the young child to the elderly in the family, everyone knew why it was imperative to practice the simple act of washing hands. And when it comes to this one thing, the pandemic did bring back a healthy change in the society, as handwashing once again became one of the most important tools to fight diseases and infections.
Reiterating the benefits of washing hands and how pandemic brought back this healthy habit in the society, Actor and Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan said,
During COVID-19, the reason people started washing hands again and again because there was some-kind of fear in the mind. There was fear among people that if they are not following this routine, it might lead to something disastrous. I am not saying we need to do the same thing with kids, but it is important that there is some-kind of warning given from starting, so that this healthy habit can be inculcated among children from the beginning, and I am sure, this one basic thing can go a long way in building a Swasth Bharat.
Highlighting one of the personal experiences and the benefits of handwashing, Dr Suneela Garg, Chair, Programme Advisory Committee, National Institute of Health and Family Welfare and Member of Lancet Commission said,
Hygiene is very important, right from the pre-conceptional to the paediatric and geriatric phases. Its importance is something I have seen very closely and in person. Back in 1983, when I completed my post-graduation and my husband was a paediatrician, during that time, we got the case of a child who was born with a very low birth weight and his survival chance was very less. During that time, we also didn’t have much advanced nursing care. We just told the mother that you will take care of the child always by washing hands. She made this a thumb rule and today that child is living a very healthy life. Just two years back, we got a call and were informed that the child we saved back then is today a district magistrate, is married and healthy. So, you see, how this one simple act saved someone’s life. Hygiene is important in all stages of our life, especially hand hygiene. Today, we are able to address issues like malnutrition, diarrhoea, under-five mortality – everything just by following some basic healthy habits like washing hands regularly. We are now able to bring up a healthy child, which is the foundation of a healthy country in future.
Talking about the role of communication and promoting healthy habits like handwashing at an early age and its importance, Sonali Khan, Managing Director, Sesame Workshop India, said,
It all boils down to how engaging and fun the content of communication really is. Children will be engaged and will listen to the communication effectively if they enjoy that. For us, this has been the prime way of engaging with kids. If we can build habits of hygiene, wellbeing, washing your hands before and after eating, after using the toilet, from an early age, it can really go a long way in building a healthier society. Also, there is an old saying that says children are also our teachers, we shouldn’t look at them just as receivers of education. They can also remind us of a lot of things. So, if they learn some good habit like handwashing in school and its important, they can force their family and friends to learn these healthy habits and give a push for a Swasth India.
Sharing an example of Nagaland and how the state is promoting the healthy habit, Temjen Imna Along, Minister for Education, Nagaland said,
In Nagaland, a smaller number of people were affected during COVID times because of proper hygiene lessons and communication circulated within the state. Our objective is to inculcate right knowledge and not fear. COVID brought a healthy change everywhere, when it comes to handwashing, it showed us how disastrous it can get, if we don’t pay attention to hygiene. Hygiene is not just about washing hands; it’s a holistic approach and it’s about keeping ourselves healthy. The reason why we have been successful in imparting the communication is because we take it upon the community to engage. We take issues in villages or colony or metro cities, take it up holistically. We let community take the stand and come out with solutions and that’s the approach we have followed.
Underlining the importance of right communication, Uttara Bharath, Senior Technical Advisor for Social & Behaviour Change, Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, Bloomberg School of Public Health said,
As a professional what I have found is the fact that entertainment communication is the most effective way of communicating with people. Today, we as a country need to focus on developing programs around it, even for communicating for simple things like handwashing. If we can build behavioural nudges and create healthy habits, we together can build a healthier society. The other important thing about communication is that it just doesn’t happen one time, so we cannot develop a leaflet, a banner and say we have done our part in communicating to people. Time and again, we need to remind people about the communication and give them different ways to absorb and understand.
Highlighting about Reckitt’s initiative and how they are promoting the idea of handwashing in a unique way and catering to more and more people, Ravi Bhatnagar, Director, External Affairs & Partnerships SOA, Reckitt said,
Dettol has launched a project with Rais Khan in which we spread the message of hygiene via folk songs. It is the most unique way to promote something this basic. It is indeed a matter of pride to see Rajasthan’s rich music heritage being such a massive contributor towards health and hygiene upliftment.
Talking about the same and many other initiatives and how Dettol has been at the forefront in making people aware about handwashing and its benefits, Dilen Gandhi, Regional Marketing Director, South Asia, Health and Nutrition, Reckitt said,
Handwashing is very important, there are so many diseases one can prevent just with this one simple act. It can reduce the risk of Diarrhoea by 47 per cent. At Dettol, we provide people with tools to deal with the risk. And not just tools, we provide information, awareness and education on how to wash hands, why it is important. So, as a whole, we are equipping people with the information and the facilities/tools and making handwashing a part of the lifestyle on a regular day to day basis.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that 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 the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.