Soap saves lives!

15 October 2014

Handwashing. What’s the big deal? Well, once it really was a big deal. In the 19th century the suggestion that mandatory handwashing in hospitals would bring down child mortality was a cause of much debate – and even opposition.

Today, if you happen to live in a developed country, handwashing is taken for granted. Most toilet facilities and bathrooms in private houses and public venues offer access to soap and water. It’s not unusual for an office, club or public building to prominently display a form indicating that the toilet facilities have been checked regularly.

In fact many of us are so used to the process that it would be hard to imagine a world where handwashing wasn’t a habit. But in many countries, it isn’t: lack of information or of access to facilities and materials can mean that not washing hands with soap and water is sometimes an accepted practice.

Accepted but dangerous. Removing excreta and cleaning hands with soap after contact with fecal material – from using a toilet or cleaning a child, say – prevents the transmission of the bacteria, viruses and protozoa that cause diarrhoeal diseases.

In fact because handwashing can prevent the transmission of a variety of pathogens, it may be more effective than any single vaccine. That comment doesn’t come from us directly, although it’s one we heartily agree with. It comes from The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap (PPPHW). The name may be a touch long-winded but the concept is very, very simple. The focus is handwashing and health: promoting, supporting and enabling it. And today is Global Handwashing Day.

The promotion of handwashing with soap and water, like the Girls for Girls initiative (which we mentioned in our last blog) is a simple concept that can be enormously effective. That’s why it’s a core part of Friends of Londiani’s health initiatives – Healthy Villages, Healthy Homesteads and especially Healthy Schools. And that’s why we strongly support Global Handwashing Day.

We really do urge you to find out more, but if you want a one-line summary, we can’t improve on this (from the same site): “Handwashing with soap is a ‘do-it-yourself vaccine’ that prevents infections and saves lives.”