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Importance of hand hygiene

Published: May 7, 2015

Are you one of those people who shake hands with people and go take out a fancy fruity hand sanitiser from your bag and rub it when that person has left and feel you are completely safe now? While that is a smart thing to do, it is not enough. Yesterday, May 5, the world celebrated Hand Hygiene Day, a good day to take stock of how clean your hands are.

While hand sanitisers are a good way of killing bacteria and viruses, there are a few mistakes that we make. For starters, we believe it is a substitute for washing hands, which it’s not. Many bacteria are resistant to sanitisers. Also, sanitisers at best kill up to 60 per cent of the germs, while a good scrubby washing of the hands can potentially kill up to a 100 per cent germs. Hand sanitisers are a very effective additional tool, but cannot replace soap and water.

We also use too little of sanitisers, using drops instead of a more generous blob. Thus, they lend us a ‘feel’ of cleanliness but do not actually make us germ-free. Our cell phones, keyboards, door handles and kitchen counters are breeding grounds for infections. We also somehow believe the more affluent people have less infectious handshakes, which is not always the case.

Clean hands can potentially save eight million lives in the world every year. One place to watch out is hospitals that are breeding grounds for Healthcare-associated infections. Health care givers, in particular nurses and vaccinators, have to make sure they save lives, not take them. Patients need to learn to demand that doctors and nurses use gloves.

It is not enough that our own hands are clean. The message must be spread to everyone you come in contact with. Some 100-150 children die daily in Pakistan because of diarrhoeal related complications, while 60-75 million people in the country suffer from diarrhoea each year. The World Health Organisation’s table showing distribution of causes of death of Pakistani children under the age of five shows that 11 per cent of these deaths are caused by diarrhoea. Diarrhoeal diseases caused 63.7 thousand deaths in the country in the year 2012. And the single most effective way of safeguarding yourself and others against this is encouraging a culture of maintaining hand hygiene.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 7th, 2015.