COVID-19 pandemic heightens the importance of handwashing with soap
Abuja, 23 October, 2020 - With people advised to observe physical distancing and good hygiene habits amidst the pandemic, health experts have constantly reminded that the simple practice of handwashing with soap and clean water is also one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of germs and viruses.
For Bolanle Popoola, a laboratory technician, imbibing the act of handwashing regularly with soap had required deliberate effort despite the knowledge that this could save her and her family from contracting infections as well as prevent them from spreading germs and viruses. She explained that she found it easier to continue with her work without washing her hands with soap because she most times wears a glove.
"With the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been taking extra effort to wash my hands with soap and water. I knew this before the outbreak, but there are times you neglect doing the right thing. We are told right from childhood to always wash our hands after playing, before eating, after using the toilet, and as often as possible. Handwashing is not only for people working in laboratories or hospitals. It is for everybody. You don't know what bacteria or germ you might have picked from the rails, from door handles, or other surfaces, she says.
Raising awareness on the importance of hygiene
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO with support of international health partners like UNICEF, UNIDO, UNFPA, IOM, OCHA and UNHCR, has been supporting the Federal Government in raising awareness on the importance of hand hygiene and integrated waste management to reduce risk behaviours among Nigerians. Many of which are beginning to yield success.
To Influence behavioural change, WHO developed and disseminated 1000 Metallic Handwashing Notices to agencies and ministries, departments and agencies. The notices contain the steps for proper handwashing and emphatic orientation that proper hand hygiene prevents coronavirus, Lassa fever, Cholera and several diseases and between March to October, over 50,250 persons have been influenced in both government and humanitarian space with the intervention.
WHO has also supported the government at national and sub-national levels to develop and adapt WASH, Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) and environmental disinfection Guidelines, including, the capacity building for environmental health surveillance focal points in 36 states and FCT on hygiene compliance and disinfection of health care facilities, schools and airports.
Also, to reduce the burden of the Lassa Fever outbreak in Edo and Ondo states where the disease is endemic, WHO supported the training of 250 women on domestic hygiene and 400 community volunteers and 200 youths on community hygiene and sanitation in 4 LGA areas in both states. WHO also pioneered the development of a community action plan using community chiefs and Elders in Owo LGA covering hygiene and sanitation promotion of which about 550,000 people were reached with hand hygiene messages for preventing Lassa fever infections.
Significance of handwashing
The COVID-19 outbreak has overly emphasised the importance of handwashing with soap to reduce the spread of the virus. The Global Handwashing Day celebrated on 15 October, was founded by the Global Handwashing partners and is an opportunity to design creative ways to encourage people to wash their hands with soap at critical times.
The theme for this year’s celebration is “Hand Hygiene for All” and in light of the COVID-19 pandemic reinforces the importance of handwashing with soap as a sure way of preventing infection from other infectious diseases such as Lassa fever, Cholera, common cold, some foodborne diseases and several gastrointestinal disorders, such as norovirus.
Buttressing the importance of the day, the WHO Nigeria Country Representative (WR), Dr Walter Kazadi Mulombo represented by the National Consultant, Public Health and Environment, Dr Edwin Isotu Edeh noted that “achieving universal access and practice of hand hygiene in all settings and sectors is essential not only to preventing the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, and also for overall health and well-being.”
Effort Yielding Positive Results
The awareness campaigns have been yielding positive results from governments response to the humanitarian space as well as from professionals whose functional duties overlap into the health sector such as those at the port services, immigration, and some communities at large. For example, Idase one of the highly endemic Lassa Fever communities in Ondo State, recorded over 70% reduction in the morbidity and mortality from Lassa fever infections compared to previous years.
Also, following WHO and Federal Ministry of Health led advocacy, in October 2020, the Minister of Environment deployed 60,000 environmental health volunteer corps in line with the presidential task force on Covid-19 to educate and enforce hygiene measures and IPC protocols of the safer reopening of schools in Nigeria.
Speaking at the commemoration of the 2020 Global Handwashing Day held at the Medium Security Prisons, Kuje, Abuja, the Minister of Water Resources, Engr. Suleiman H. Adamu stated that “the ‘Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet’ Campaign to end open defecation in the country by the target year of 2025 is ongoing and hygiene promotion is an integral component, with emphasis on handwashing at critical times, to break the faeco-oral route of disease transmission, and appreciated all partners for their continued support and solidarity. Handwashing facilities and products were presented to the authority of Kuje Correctional Centre for the use of the inmates. A symbolic handwashing exercises were performed by the Minister and other dignitaries.
On his part, Nigeria’s Minister of Environment Dr. Mohammed Abubakar who was also present at the event equally enlisted “every Nigerian to be a vanguard of this year Hand Wash Campaign ‘Hand Hygiene for All’ because it is by so doing that, we can avoid most diseases including COVID-19 that can be spread through hand contact.”
Other dignitaries in attendance include representatives of Ministers of Humanitarian Affairs, Agriculture and Rural Development, Interior, and the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Correctional Services. The representatives of UNICEF, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), Organized Private Sector for WASH and a host of other stakeholders promoting hand hygiene in Nigeria were also at the commemoration.
Although there are success stories from the campaign, much needs to be done to raise awareness. Global handwashing day raises awareness and understanding about the importance of handwashing with soap as an easy, effective, and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives.
Dr Msyamboza, Kelias; Email: msyambozak [at] who.int; Tel: +234 906 278 4292
Dr Edeh Edwin Isotu; Email: edehe [at] who.int; Tel: +234 806 872 7856
Tel: +234 810 221 0093
Email: warigonc [at] who.int