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Teach hand hygiene in schools

cities Updated: Mar 30, 2020 17:29 IST

A positive fallout of the global Covid-19 pandemic is that Indians have finally begun to pay more attention to hand hygiene. And they are also learning the right way to clean their hands.

Today, a number of videos showing us the correct way to wash our hands have gone viral on the social media. There are also videos showing how microbes persisted on hands following a quick wash with soap and water. On the other hand, 20 seconds of rubbing the soap on the hand , covering the entire hand surface and then washing with water, rid the hands of microbes. Even consumers who believed in regular hand washing, say that they were unaware of the 20-second regime.

Well, they are not the only ones. A survey among 523 Indian medical undergraduates found that 68% were unaware of the sequence of hand washing and hand rubbing, as advocated by the World Health Organization for health care workers. The survey also found that although over 70% of the students claimed they used an alcohol-based hand rub routinely, only 36% knew the time required for a hand rub to kill the germs on the hand. The overall hand hygiene knowledge was good only in 12.2% of the respondents, the survey said, underscoring the fact that 57% of the respondents never received any formal training in hand hygiene.

The survey titled “Hand hygiene practices among Indian medical undergraduates: A questionnaire-based survey” was conducted in 2017.

Similar surveys in the food industry too have exposed the basic ignorance about hand hygiene. One of them, conducted among 174 chefs , for example, found that even though 82% considered hand washing as important, only 45.8% were aware of the correct technique. In fact, the study found that while 68% used soaps, 10.9% used plain water to wash hands!

Even more shocking was that out of 87 restaurants surveyed, only 29% had hand washing stations inside toilets and only 28% had hand washing stations in cooking areas! Here too, it was found that for 71.8% of the chefs, hand washing was not part of the training curriculum. The survey titled “A study of hand washing practices among the chefs of the registered restaurants in Pune Cantonment” (by S.Vasisht et al) was published in Global Journal of Medicine and Public Health in 2015.

Even though I did not see any studies about cooks and catering personnel at weddings and such other functions, I am sure their knowledge and training on hand hygiene is even poorer. So, it’s time we incorporated lessons and practical training on correct techniques of hand hygiene in all curriculums, beginning with pre-school. And in health and food sectors, knowledge and practice of proper hand hygiene should be a prerequisite for employment.

While on the issue, I must mention that experts clearly say that washing with any ordinary soap is good enough, so long as you follow the prescribed technique of 20 seconds of rubbing with soap. Many consumers are today buying antibacterial soaps, in the belief that they offer better protection. This is a fallacy, particularly when it comes to Covid-19, because it’s caused by a virus, not a bacteria.

In fact, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that there is not enough evidence to show that over-the-counter (OTC) antibacterial soaps are better than plain soaps and water. “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term ”, says FDA, which has prohibited the use of 19 antibacterial agents used in OTC antibacterial washes, including Triclosan and triclocarban, on the ground that there is insufficient data on their safety and effectiveness.

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