What you need to know:
- It can reduce the incidence of pneumonia by 23 per cent and diarrhoea 45 per cent.
- When more people use soap regularly, and have access to sanitation, the impact on health is significant.
- Let us be inspired to educate ourselves, our families and those around us on the importance of handwashing and make it as omnipresent as “H is for Handwashing”.
It is Global Handwashing Day. “So what?” you might ask. Well, it is a day to recognise the importance of hand hygiene as one of the most effective — and cheapest — ways to fend off the coronavirus. Not just that: We all know that safe water, adequate sanitation and proper hygiene education — or WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) — can reduce illness and death, help to reduce poverty and spur socioeconomic development.
The simple act of handwashing is the single-most cost-effective way of stopping child deaths. It can reduce the incidence of pneumonia by 23 per cent and diarrhoea 45 per cent. When more people use soap regularly, and have access to sanitation, the impact on health is significant. In fact, if everybody followed ideal handwashing habits — washing with soap before eating and after using the toilet — every person would require some 20 bars of soaps yearly. But consumption levels are far below this with 1.5 billion people using less than eight bars of soap per year. This shows the magnitude of the task the world faces in terms of driving the WASH agenda.
While progress is being made on the WASH agenda with two of the Sustainable Development Goals clearly calling this out — SDG3, on good health and hygiene; and SDG6, on clean water and sanitation – more needs to be done. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought to the fore the need for accelerated education on the importance of hand hygiene and the urgent need to make it easier for people to access hygiene solutions by improving access to water, wash stations and soap.
We need the private sector, the public sector, the social sector and the community to come together in a never-before-seen way to not only overcome the pandemic but make handwashing a habit, particularly in our children, for a bright future for the community.
Towards this end, it has been heartening to see the multi-stakeholder model come into play in Kenya. The government, social sector, private sector and communities at large have come together to fight the coronavirus by educating the populace on the importance of handwashing and providing access to water, wash stations and soap. We’ve seen competitors collaborate, different social sector players combine resources and the Kenyan frugal innovation approach come to the fore as a joint force of might was marshalled to combat the virus and make handwashing a habit.
It’s been heartening to see entities like the National Business Compact for Coronavirus (NBCC), for example, spearheading the work to accelerate local action and support government efforts in countering the pandemic by educating consumers and helping to make handwashing, among other things, common practice. Enabling this are many collaborators and don ors, notable among them the global Unilever-DfID coalition. Given that one of the big challenges in handwashing is the education and access to soap, large-scale soap donations are also helping this behaviour change work to move ahead with speed. Local manufacturing and distribution of basic hygiene products like soaps, liquid handwash and sanitisers by many manufacturers like Unilever has been a big enabler in this endeavour and the support and encouragement from the government invaluable.
One might say that, this year, because of the Covid19 pandemic, the importance of handwashing among the public has increased. But we need to continue this journey and ensure that handwashing becomes commonplace and not forgotten after we have vanquished the coronavirus.
A major event to do this is the Global Handwashing Day. Celebrated every October 15, this is a global advocacy day dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding about the importance of handwashing with soap to prevent diseases and save lives. Across the world, 200 million people take part in celebrating GHD in more than 100 countries.
As we go forward together on this journey, let us be inspired to educate ourselves, our families and those around us on the importance of handwashing and make it as omnipresent as “H is for Handwashing”.
Mr Pawan is the marketing director, Unilever. pawan-kumar. email@example.com.