Please excuse me while I state the obvious:
It should not take a pandemic to teach people to wash their hands frequently.
And yet, before the coronavirus outbreak became a worldwide problem, statistics showed that four out of five people didn’t wash their hands when coming out of the bathroom (and I’ve counted about the same numbers in Japanese ladies’ rooms just out of sheer curiosity, and then shot them all very judgemental looks which they, of course, didn’t even notice).
Not only is it gross to think that the person you just shook hands with may have just gone to the bathroom and then shared that experience and the accompanying bacteria with you, but as Myriam Sidibe says in her TED talk on the subject, simple hand washing can save the lives of over 600 000 children annually.
“Washing hands with soap,” she says, “a habit we all take for granted, can reduce diarrhea by half, can reduce respiratory infections by one third.”
The problem is less to do with access to soap, says Sidibe, (most households, even in the poorest countries, have soap) and more to do with cultural practices in some places and, let’s be real, laziness in others.
Even before the World Health Organization released this brochure on hand hygiene in 2009, we were all taught to wash our hands frequently by family and teachers. It’s not like we haven’t been told it before. So why is it that only now, after a virus has made its way through 155 countries and killed 8000 people is it something that people are paying attention to?
While the WHO has always recommended using alcohol based hand rubs over soap in situations where the spread of germs is particularly dangerous, this is not an excuse to rush to the supermarket and panic-buy all the bottles of sanitizer on the shelves (although my latest visit to the shop confirmed that everyone’s gone and done this anyway). Good old soap and water has always been the tried and tested way to avoid sharing our germs, at least for those who weren’t too lazy to use it.
If you have access to running water and soap, and it can be safely assumed that most people reading this do, you have zero excuse to skip taking 30 seconds to complete this simple step, which happens to be the single most important measure to avoid the transmission of germs. You had no excuse before the COVID-19 outbreak, and you’ll have no excuse once the spread of the virus has been curtailed.
For those who may have FORGOTTEN how to do this, instructions will be passive-aggressively be imbedded into this article:
The WHO also recommends using a lotion to keep your hands protected and moisturised in between washes, and keeping natural nails short, because (I’m paraphrasing here) having long claws is actually unhygienic and gross.
I’m very pleased to see that people are (finally) taking hand-washing seriously, although the fact that this realisation has taken so long, and come hand-in-hand with a wave of panicked consumers stocking their apocalypse bunkers leaves me feeling somewhat disappointed with the human race.
Can we please all make a conscious effort to keep the hygiene momentum going even after the COVID-19 situation has been resolved? It might just give us a little (or a lot) more time before we have to deal with the next horrifying pandemic.
And now, for your viewing pleasure, I present you with this: