In 1846, a Hungarian doctor working in Vienna general hospital, Ignaz Semmelweis noticed that women giving birth in the medical student/doctor-run maternity ward in his hospital were much likely to develop a fever and die compared to the women giving birth in the adjacent midwife-run maternity ward. On investigation, he noticed that doctors and medical students did autopsies and never washed their hands and therefore carried ‘cadaverous materials’ whereas midwives never did the autopsies. He therefore suggested hand washing with chlorine for all in his hospital. Though his idea was never accepted at first, he is regarded as the father of hand hygiene/washing. The idea of hand washing and hand hygiene has since then been a serious concern especially after the chain of outbreaks of food borne and healthcare associated infections that led to public concern in the United States in the early 1980s.

Hand hygiene is a general term referring to any action of hand cleansing. It includes applying an alcohol-based hand rub to the surface of the hands, washing hands with soap and clean water and maintaining finger nails short or avoiding nail extensions.

Handwashing with soap or any other detergent remains the most cost effective, simple and powerful hygiene practice to curb the spread of germs and parasitic diseases that weaken or kill millions of people around the world every year. Germs can spread from person to person or from surfaces to people when you;

  • Touch your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Prepare or eat food and drinks with un washed hands.
  • Touch surfaces or objects that have germs on them
  • Blow your nose, cough or sneeze into hands and then touch other people’s hands or common objects.
  • Touch or care for a sick person.

You can help yourself and your loved ones stay healthy by washing your hands often, especially during key times when you are likely to get and spread germs. Always wash your hands;

  • Before, during and after preparing food.
  • Before and after eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or has diarrhea.
  • After using the toilet.
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound.
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
  • After touching on animal, animal feed or animal waste.
  • After handling pet food or pet treats.

Washing your hands is an easy procedure, with only 5 steps;

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold) turn off the tap and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

Global hand washing day has always been celebrated annually in October 15th to promote hand washing with soap and water as an easy, effective and affordable way to prevent disease and save lives.

This year’s global hand washing day theme is to UNITE FOR UNIVERSAL HAND HYGIENE. We therefore must promote national hand hygiene efforts such as the development of a costed hand hygiene roadmap that considers a combination of policy, public financing, capacity building and innovation.

Let us maintain proper hand hygiene by washing our hands the right way to keep healthy.

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