A global survey conducted by Essity and UN entity WSSCC shows that people around the world are increasingly concerned about the hostile side of our hands. Four in 10 people often or always worry about becoming ill due to poor hygiene, seven in 10 have refrained from everyday activities such as traveling on public transportation or eating street food because of hygiene concerns, and two in 10 often avoid physical contact with others due to hand hygiene worries. But avoiding high fives, street food and crowded spaces is neither a happy way of living nor a particularly effective way to deal with germs. However, there is an effective method for preventing the spread of germs and still lead active and social lives: simple handwashing with soap.
Handwashing with soap removes 90 % of contaminants. It is a simple act for keeping our hands clean, and clean hands are indeed a recipe for health, well-being and public progress:
- Clean hands enable people to stay healthy and active
Handwashing is an effective method to ensure a healthy everyday life. Regular use of water and soap could prevent one in 10 people from getting sick of foodborne, and help preventing the spread of cold and flu by removing viruses that get onto hands from coughs and sneezes.
- Clean hands save the lives of children
Diarrhoea and pneumonia are two major causes of death in children under the age of five, but they can both be prevented by handwashing with soap. By keeping our hands clean, we can save the lives of 1,75,000 children with diarrhoea and prevent 1,84,000 children from dying in pneumonia – every year.
- Clean hands fight healthcare-associated infections and antimicrobial resistance
Each year hundreds of millions of patients are affected by healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), with life-threatening risks for the patient, prolonged hospital stays and excessive costs for the healthcare system as consequences. Fighting HAIs is also an important, preventive measure against antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which already causes 7,00,000 deaths annually. By improving hygiene standards in hospitals and keeping hands clean among healthcare workers, we can prevent up to 70% of HAIs, save lives and fight AMR.
- Clean hands enable children to spend more time in school
Pre-schools and schools can easily become playgrounds for infections. In fact, 242 million school days are missed globally every year due to diarrhoea, thereby putting children at disadvantage early in life. However, interventions to raise hygiene standards can prevent many infections and improve children’s health and school participation. By keeping hands clean in pre-schools and schools, we can enable children around the world to spend 130 million more days in school every year. That equals a full year in school for 3,57,000 children.
Firstly, we can ensure universal access to soap and water. Three in four people in low income countries still lack access to handwashing facilities, and more than three in 10 (35%) of healthcare facilities in lowand middle-income countries lack soap and water.
Secondly, we can improve hand hygiene by regularly washing our hands with soap at critical times, especially before eating, cooking, feeding others, and after visiting the toilet. Although handwashing is not a very demanding act to perform, data shows that we still have plenty of room for improvement. Globally, three in 10 (31%) people don’t wash their hands before eating, more than two in 10 (23%) don’t wash their hands before cooking and more than one in 10 (15%) don’t even wash their hands after visiting the toilet.
Thirdly, we can change our mindset towards handwashing. Today, as many as eight in 10 people worldwide say that they wash their hands to protect themselves, but washing one’s hands is not only about one’s own protection – it is also about protecting one’s loved ones.