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How Handwashing Saved Moms: The Doctor Who Cleaned Up The Maternity Ward Mess!

Meet the ‘savior of mothers’ who discovered the wonders of hand hygiene

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How Handwashing Saved Moms: The Doctor Who Cleaned Up The Maternity Ward Mess!
Dr Ignaz Semmelweis was born in Hungary in 1818

New Delhi: Picture this: It’s 1847, and Vienna General Hospital’s maternity wards are more dreaded than a dentist visit. Women were terrified to give birth there. The wards were plagued by childbed fever, a deadly infection claiming the lives of many new mothers. Imagine, 13 to 18 percent of them didn’t make it out of the hospital.

Enter the ‘savior of mothers’ with a simple yet revolutionary idea: Handwashing!

Also Read: Book Recommendation – Pete The Kitty: Wash Your Hands

Believe it or not, handwashing wasn’t always the norm. It took a mustachioed man with beady eyes and a bald head, Ignaz Semmelweis, to kickstart the hand hygiene technique that billions follow today.

Born in Hungary in 1818, Dr. Semmelweis found himself at Vienna’s General Hospital, deeply unsettled by the high maternal mortality rate. Remember, this was the pre-germ theory era and the medical community believed that bad air caused disease. Little did they know, the real villain was right under their noses — or rather, on their very hands.

Dr. Semmelweis noticed that doctors and medical students, after playing Frankenstein with cadavers, went straight to deliver babies without washing their hands. Meanwhile, the midwives, who skipped the gruesome part, had fewer deaths in their ward.

Putting two and two together, Dr Semmelweis had his “Eureka!” moment: the doctors were performing delivery with hands still dirty from their autopsy sessions. He mandated a wild idea – washing hands with chlorinated lime before examining patients.

And et voilà! Within months, the mortality rate plummeted. By the end of 1847, the drop was nothing short of miraculous.

What Dr. Semmelweis discovered is a timeless truth: Handwashing is a public health superhero. It can fend off the flu, halt disease spread, and keep infections at bay. And that’s why he’s the pioneer or Father of Handwashing, forever remembered as the man who made cleanliness cool.

Also Read: Book Review: I Don’t Want To Wash My Hands By Tony Ross

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