In a Satyamev Jayate episode some time back the focus was on spreading awareness on proper hand washing. Invited to the show were some school kids from villages who demonstrated the right way of how one should wash hands.
It was with a mixed feeling of concern and smugness that I watched the program on TV. In India many children die of diarrhoea, mostly in villages. In order to prevent this it is found that washing hands with soap on key occasions during the day is the most cost-effective and scalable solution that can go a long way to stop deadly diseases.
Last month (April 2014) Lifebuoy launched what it calls Jump Pump in about 1500 rural schools in UP and Maharashtra during the mid-day meal. The kids enjoyed operating the pump and played around it even after the school hours (watch the video below).
Tippy tap is yet another hands-free way to wash hands that is especially appropriate for rural areas where there is no running water. The best thing about it is that it is easy to make which even children can do. It is hygienic (touches only soap), and uses only 40 millilitres of water to wash hands versus 500 millilitres using a mug.
Coming to the TV show, my smugness was because I felt the hand washing problem was rather a rural phenomenon. Are not we the educated people aware of and alert to the health hazards?
Boy, was I (ever) so wrong!
Last year a study by the Michigan State University (MSU) of 3,749 people in public restrooms has found that just 5% wash their hands properly to kill germs. What is scarier is that 15% of men and 7% of women did not wash their hands at all, while half of men and 22% of women neglected to use soap.
Surprisingly, when people use the public toilet they don’t want to touch things in there. Many would much rather squat, perch, hover, contort or do anything so that their rear ends don’t touch the public toilet. The 2013 Healthy Handwashing Survey by Bradley Corporation found that (see image below):
- 64% operate the toilet flusher with their foot
- 60% use a paper towel when touching the restroom door
- 37% use a paper towel when touching faucet handles, and
- 48% open and close doors with their hip
But does only doing those really help? Not really. A Reader’s Digest health alarm says that rather than the fear of catching a disease from the toilet seat worry more about catching a disease from your hands.
You might argue those stats are from the US. Yes they are, and I quote them for 2 reasons. One, these things are happening in the most advanced country, and in spite of concerted efforts by different agencies to stop such practice. In India people still openly defecate, so you can imagine what an uphill task awaits us in the field of public hygiene.
Let me quote what the outgoing Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said with respect to rural sanitation while commenting that toilets are more important in India than temples:
Sixty-four per cent of Indians defecate in open spaces, which is a global record. It is now reckoned as the main cause of India’s malnutrition problem. In the past five years, we have spent more than Rs 45,000 crore on rural sanitation and will spend Rs 1.08 lakh crore in the next five years to make India open-defecation-free country.
The second reason is more alarming. A research team from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine monitored a whopping 200,000 toilet-goers and found that people wash their hands more when they are watched.
If those are the scenarios in US and UK, evidently it will take a hell of a lot more for anything substantial to happen in India.
Before I end this article I want to produce 2 images for the purpose of raising health consciousness. The first is actually a set of 8 images that show the proper way of washing hands. Remember that actions marked with an asterisk (*) are to be performed twice, once for each hand.
The second image is that of 6 health-related quiz questions with answers (more in this website) which we need to embed in our mind, and help others by informing them.