Let’s Realize the Promise of Universal Hand Hygiene
A simple handwashing station sits outside Kilingili Health Centre in Ikolomani sub-county of Kakamega, Kenya. Photo: PATH/Tony Karumba.
The past two years shone a spotlight on the crucial role of handwashing in safeguarding public health. New research is also revealing that, not only can handwashing help curb the spread of COVID, the increased emphasis on hand hygiene also helped drive down prevalence of other communicable diseases. Scientists in Ethiopia, for example, found that compliance with hand hygiene practices in response to COVID-19 had the added benefit of significantly reducing intestinal parasitic infections.
Global Handwashing Day is a powerful reminder that, as the world moves beyond the COVID-19 pandemic to our new normal, we must unite for universal hand hygiene. According to the World Health Organization that means government, business, and society, must “commit to prioritizing hand hygiene by investing in programs that promote positive behavior change and advocate for policies that will increase hygiene access and infrastructure.”
But understanding successful strategies is only the first step to realizing their potential.
There is still much to be done. An expansive WHO study revealed that more than a third of health facilities around the globe lack water and soap for handwashing. Evidence also shows that forty percent of the world’s population has no access to soap and water at home.
With no way to wash up, that means vulnerable communities still face common diarrheal disease outbreaks and chronic illness that disrupts lives and economies. Inadequate access to clean water and sanitation, or WASH, is responsible for more than half of global diarrheal disease cases. And as with COVID-19, the poorest communities are the hardest hit.
At DefeatDD, we agree with WHO that the integration of hand hygiene with WASH strategies is the best way to save the most lives. With its “Hand Hygiene for All“ initiative, the WHO calls on global and country stakeholders to prioritize collaboration between hand hygiene and WASH improvements “in the context of the COVID-19 response and beyond.” Research, clinical care, health system investments, and policy must strategically align to ensure equitable access to clean water, sanitary surroundings, soap, and toilets.