There are a myriad issues ailing our society and our world. The world is crying out for a champion, a messiah and we are all looking, waiting for that leader to emerge. Actually the buck stops with you and me. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”.
This phrase really resonates with me and I am sure it does so with you too. Very few of us are aware of the millions of children silently dying of diarrhoea every single day. Millions more are dying of respiratory diseases.
It is strange and a rather sad sign of the times we live in, that this does not make any kind of news. Is it because they are the poor and marginalised that their lives don’t matter? Today is global hand hygiene day and if the simple act of hand hygiene is practised effectively it can save millions of lives.
Hand hygiene is so effective in preventing infection that its efficacy has been equated to that of a vaccine. It is literally the cheapest, most accessible and most easily implementable ‘vaccine’ in society today.
Hand hygiene after using the washroom, before cooking, before eating, after any contact which may have sullied the hand, after contact with ill patients effectively washes off the germs and prevents infection. It is important to appreciate that hand hygiene protects not only against diarrhoeas but also respiratory infections, skin infections, eye infections and many more.
We need to devise innovative ways of disseminating this information through media, schools, NGOs, etc.
The bugs are microscopic and one can’t see them. But our hands pick them up effortlessly or rather the bugs effortlessly tag along on our hands! They are smart folks. They have a deep intelligence and have researched us thoroughly and are intimately aware of our habits and lifestyles. They are perfectly cognisant of our propensity of not washing our hands at appropriate times… .
They take advantage of our daily salutations like shaking hands and kissing and hugging. While we are exchanging greetings, we are exchanging bugs too!
Hitching a ride on our unwashed hands gives the germs access to fresh hosts and a new cycle of infection and disease begins. So, in the flu season which is upon us, washing hands often is a good idea. At times it may not be possible to have access to soap and water. Hence it is a good idea to keep a hand sanitiser in the pocket, purse and in the children’s bags and teach everyone to use it frequently.
During winter when the respiratory viruses are abuzz with fresh energy and vitality, it is a good idea to wish the Indian way, where we gently appose both our hands together and say ‘namaste’ or elegantly raise our right hand midway in the air and say ‘assalaam alaikum’. In neither of these salutations do we touch other people’s hands. In this way we don’t freely exchange bugs while spreading cheer and sunshine.
Now, hand hygiene during the flu season is not as simple as our social handwashing. It was found that some parts of the hand are invariably left unclean if not done in the proper way. A lot of interesting research was done to identify the most effective technique of washing away microbes. It was found that the thumb, adjacent part of palm, finger tips and wrist were largely left untouched. So, effective hand hygiene includes wetting hands, lathering soap on the palms, between the fingers, tips of the fingers, thumb and wrist for a minimum of 20 seconds. How will you know when 20 seconds are up? Hum the birthday song, That’s how long it will take! By the way, happy birthday to all the readers who were born today!
To prevent flu, it is equally important to break the highly efficient, high speed transmission of viruses and bacteria through the medium of sneezing and coughing. We usually use our hands and tissues to break the onward transmission. This is not such a good idea as these hands are now contaminated and when we shake hands or touch something, we unknowingly pass on the germs to unsuspecting folk.
You can see how intelligently the bugs work their way around our infection control efforts. To work our way around their scheming stratagems, it is now advised to sneeze in the elbows. The bugs find it difficult to jump on to another human from an elbow!
Having a good healthy breakfast is a simple way to keep our immunity strong. Very often we can’t prevent an exposure to the bugs but we can mount a vigorous immune response against them and prevent the disease all together. If you happen to visit or meet a person with flu, try keeping a distance of 6ft from them. This way you won’t inhale the bugs. It goes without saying that washing hands is essential.
Finally, always remember prevention is better than cure. Vaccination is a wonderful way of protecting children from otherwise dangerous infections which have high mortality.
We don’t hear of diphtheria, tetanus or pertussis because we are protected against them by effective vaccines. If you remember recently there was a bad outbreak of measles in the USA. Now there is an effective vaccine against measles. But people start underestimating the seriousness of the disease and the efficacy of the vaccine and took a decision to not vaccinate their children – with catastrophic outcomes. Play safe, play intelligent, vaccinate your children. The flu vaccine is available now. This vaccine protects all of us from flu. It should definitely be administered to the elderly, people who have chronic diseases, children and all healthcare personnel.
It is time that we the citizens of the world fully comprehend and appreciate the importance of our involvement and wholehearted participation in matters concerning our health and well-being. Let’s build a better world together. Happy global hand hygiene day! Have a happy, healthy, joyous fortnight! Adios!