As the world battles COVID-19 through research, innovation, and other measures like lockdowns and curfews, an easier and equally effective arsenal available to the masses is helping win the war against the disease – hand washing. Simple as it may be, handwashing is one of the first lines of defence and together with social distancing, wearing masks, cough ettiqute and general self-care, have cemented the success on the COVID-19 frontline.
Cognizant of this, on October 15 the world celebrated Global Handwashing Day, a global advocacy day dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding about the importance of handwashing with soap and triggering lasting change from the policy-level to community-driven action as an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives.
Themed ‘Hand Hygiene for All,’ this year’s celebrations were led by the First Lady H. E. Margaret Kenyatta with a call to action to make hand hygiene a reality for everyone.
Globally, the current COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical role hand hygiene plays in disease transmission and it has helped keep the COVID-19 curve relatively flat. In addition, consistent and regular handwashing coupled by other behavioural changes has also brought about a significant reduction of other opportunistic diseases like diarrhoea, lowered cases of acute respiratory infections and reduced the transmission of outbreak-related pathogens such as cholera, Ebola and hepatitis E. It is thus imperative that handwashing be repositioned and elevated in terms of priority focus areas
This success has come about via public,-private partnership synergies with the Hygiene Behaviour Change Coalition and its partners playing a critical role in ensuring vulnerable and marginalised communities get access to much-needed handwashing facilities. To this end, the coalition has delivered Infection Prevention and Control/Behaviour Change Communication training in nine counties as well as ste up hand washing facilities countrywide as it seeks to build on the current momentum to make hand hygiene a mainstay in public health interventions beyond the pandemic, creating a culture of hand hygiene.
Thanking the various stakeholders in the revival of the handwashing narrative, Amref Health Africa Group CEO Dr Githinji Gitahi noted, “We need to think about hand hygiene every day and not only to keep COVID-19 at bay, but also to maintain a healthy livelihood. This is also a reminder to Governments that access to water and sanitation is key, and as such, should be treated as a public good to ensure access to all.”
However, it is still not time to celebrate; these gains do not mean that the coalition’s efforts will register quick wins; the principles are easy; however, success will take the shape of a dynamic and adaptive process that we will grow with to achieve and sustain desired results. In this regard, the Public-Private Partnership efforts demonstrated so far will have to adapt to societal needs as well as being flexible enough to accommodate changes as well as the pace of early adopters and those slow in response in this conversation.
As stakeholders look at lasting solutions beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical that efforts so far be complemented by the government taking the lead and elevating hand washing as a crucial and key intervention. This will include, among others, allocating higher budgets, dedicating additional human resource and giving access to handwashing stations to all. Besides this, the right policies and plans, institutional arrangements, capacity development, financing and monitoring need to be in place.
And as we look forward to delivering Hygiene for All, we thank all that have made it possible for handwashing in Kenya to take significant leaps into its new elevated position and those that are driving behaviour change to further entrench the behaviour in us.