New Delhi: Germs are everywhere – be it in our environment or in our bodies. In layman’s terms, germs are basically tiny organisms, or living things, that can cause disease in the human body. They are so small and sneaky that they creep into our bodies without being noticed. World Health Organization (WHO) states, “When a person is susceptible and they encounter with harmful germs, it can lead to disease and death.”
It further adds that not all germs are harmful, but one needs to be cautious of the ones that can breach body’s natural defense mechanism – immune system and cause harmful diseases. WHO adds that hands are the main pathways of germ transmission and thus hand hygiene is the single most important measure to avoid the spread of infections and keep people healthy. But unfortunately, thousands of people are still dying around the world due to poor hygiene.
Handwashing – The Single Most Cost-effective Way To Fight Germs
“Wash your hands” – These are the three most important words when it comes to living a healthy life and since COVID-19 breakout – the worst pandemic to hit the world in 100 years, the importance of handwashing has simply increased. A quick look at facts that suggest handwashing is the single most cost-effective way to fight germs:
- According to WHO, handwashing after going to the toilet or before eating can reduce the risk of children getting diarrhoea by more than 40 per cent. Whereas, UNICEF 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. It also states that a large percentage of foodborne disease outbreaks are spread by contaminated hands and simply by handwashing one can reduce the risk of foodborne illness and other infections. It also states that handwashing can reduce the risk of respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16–21%.
- As per WHO estimates, in 2019 an estimated 5.2 million children under 5 years died mostly from preventable and treatable causes. It further added that children aged 1 to 11 months accounted for 1.5 million of these deaths while children aged 1 to 4 years accounted for 1.3 million deaths, while newborns (under 28 days) accounted for the remaining 2.4 million deaths. WHO said that half of all under-five deaths in 2019 occurred in just five countries: Nigeria, India, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia. And Nigeria and India alone accounted for almost a third of all deaths. WHO states that the leading causes of death in children under-5 years are preterm birth complications, pneumonia, congenital anomalies, diarrhoea and malaria, all of which can be prevented or treated with access to simple, affordable interventions including handwashing, good hygiene, adequate nutrition, safe water and food.
Both UNICEF and WHO says ‘washing hands’ regularly is the best way to stop germs from entering one’s body. They recommend, washing of hands after using the bathroom, when hands get dirty, with soap and water while slowly counting to 20.
WHO gives a clarion call to world leaders for investment in hand hygiene and states that if world leaders don’t invest in handwashing, we will continue to see more than a million children under five years old dying unnecessarily every single year around the world. It adds, thoroughly cleaning hands with soap or an alcohol-based hand rub helps prevent a range of diseases, including the biggest killers of under-fives globally: pneumonia and diarrhoea.
But Access To Safe Handwashing Is A Challenge
Globally, around three in 10 people, or 2.3 billion, do not have handwashing facilities with water and soap available at home, as per UNICEF. It also said that the situation is worst in the least developed countries, with over six in 10 people without access to basic hand hygiene. It further adds that as per the latest estimates, two in five schools worldwide do not have basic hygiene services with water and soap, affecting 818 million students, of which 462 million attend schools with no facility at all.
If We Fight Germs, These Are The Diseases We Can Stamp Out
Health experts say that one can fight diseases like Diarrhoea, Malnutrition, Worm Infestation, Cholera, Hepatitis A, simply by focusing on hand hygiene, which take lives of many.
WHO estimates that 50% of cases of child undernutrition across the globe are due to repeated diarrhoea and intestinal infections caused by poor hygiene conditions or lack of safe water. In India, according to the estimates that mapped trends from 2002 to 2017, published in The Lancet on May 12, 2020, 68% of under-5 deaths were reported due to child, maternal malnutrition. WHO says that handwashing with soap is a critical determinant for achieving and maintaining good nutrition and fighting these diseases.
WHO also adds that researchers have estimated that each year there are 1.3 to 4 million cases of cholera, and 21,000 to 1,43,000 deaths worldwide due to cholera. It states that the disease can easily be prevented if handwashing and good hygiene is implemented.
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.