While COVID-19 established the importance of handwashing in preventing disease, it also pointed at the glaring lack of hand hygiene that exists across the world. As the slow world recovers from the pandemic, the importance of handwashing necessitate conversations about the importance of handwashing beyond COVID-19. The global theme “Our Future is at Hand- Let’s Move Forward Together” continues to highlight the critical role hand hygiene plays in disease transmission with an emphasis on integrating this critical practice through behavioural changes.
Benefits of hand hygiene
– Handwashing can reduce diarrheal diseases by 30%.
– Handwashing can reduce acute respiratory infections by up to 20%.
– Handwashing plays an important role in reducing the transmission of outbreak-related pathogens such as cholera, Ebola, shigellosis, SARS and hepatitis E.
– Hand hygiene is protective against healthcare-associated infections and reduces the spread of antimicrobial resistance.
– Hand hygiene may contribute to the reduction of Neglected Tropical Diseases
Studies suggest that personal behaviours cause more than 50% of illnesses and when these behaviours are optimally corrected through scientific methods, it can effectively contribute towards a healthier population aware of keeping themselves safe through preventive measures. Hand washing, though a basic and widely known method to prevent acquired infections, is often ignored, or not seriously practised though it is the first line of defence in preventing future outbreaks.
Hand Hygiene has always been the single most important way of reducing the spread of disease and infection in hospitals. It’s particularly important for healthcare professionals such as nurses, midwives, doctors, and healthcare assistants who regularly come into close contact with patients to ensure robust hygiene practices.
Speaking at a webinar organized by USAID’s flagship health system strengthening project NISHTHA implemented by Jhpiego in collaboration with Unilever on the occasion of Global Handwashing Day, Dr T Dileep Kumar, President, Indian Nursing Council highlighted, ‘A big part of personal hygiene is hand hygiene and incorporating safety measures in developing habits will help avert illnesses and reduce the spread of germs and infections. Auxiliary Nurses and midwives are instrumental in educating communities and galvanizing behaviour change at the grassroots towards the importance of handwashing as preventive care. Creating experiential evidence-based learning with lesser educated communities through nurses and midwives can help instil the importance of handwashing.’
Nurses who form 47% of the health workforce in India are often the first point of contact for those who need to care the most. As per research, ‘Nurses and Midwifes’ play a major role in identifying behaviours critical to health, assessing the needs of individuals and groups and recommending specific health behaviours, preparing and delivering interventions designed to enhance engagement in health behaviours, and evaluating the effectiveness of interventions for individuals, groups, communities, and the nation. They also play a critical role in educating and helping people to adopt and sustain healthier lifestyle-related behaviours.
Speaking on the role of nurses and midwives in inducing behavioural change through hand washing in masses, Concluding the discussion by the panellists, Dr Somesh Kumar, Country Director, Jhpiego said, “Personal hygiene is the primary defence to preventing disease and utmost importance for our and our community’s health. Even before Covid 19 pandemic, governments, and health organizations all over the world promoted the need for having clean hands and appropriate handwashing behaviours for disease prevention. Global handwashing day is dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding the importance of handwashing as an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives.”
Nurses and midwives can be the catalysts for healthier lifestyles across India as was seen during the pandemic. The point of contact for nurses and patients remains much higher than doctors as they carry out almost 80% of patient care tasks. This makes nurses the perfect ambassadors of health promotion by leveraging their professional knowledge through encouragement and teaching to deliver health messages.
In their efforts to spread the importance of handwashing for disease prevention, nurses, midwives and healthcare professionals need to be equipped with the right tools to educate the masses. Additionally, they must be provided with the resources and training required to implement good hand hygiene practices to respond to the pandemic and to safely maintain essential services. By adopting safe means of health promotion, we will move into a new normal where the momentum of handwashing practices continues and helps build a healthier nation.