From saving lives to protecting the vulnerable, vaccines are a strong argument for one of humanity’s greatest achievements. Despite fears that immunity might lessen over time, 196 countries and territories have now administered vaccines to slow the spread of COVID-19. As of September 2021, China and India have delivered the highest number of doses and studies show that the fully vaccinated are highly protected against severe infection, hospitalization and death.
Vaccinations alone, however, aren’t the solution. The pandemic is a flagrant reminder that the most effective ways to help stop the spread of COVID-19, and other viruses, such as cold, influenza and norovirus, are also the simplest – wearing a mask and hand hygiene. While clean, safe air is more important than ever, a recent study also found that regular handwashing with soap can reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 infection by 36%.
Hand sanitizers offer an extra layer of hygiene but handwashing with soap is often considered the easiest, most effective and affordable. However, for some people, this simply isn’t true. During the pandemic, 2.3 billion people worldwide did not have access to a hand hygiene facility in their homes, leaving them at risk of COVID-19 and other infections because they could not wash their hands.
By 2030, it’s predicted that 78% of people will have access, leaving approximately 1.9 billion people unable to do something most of us take for granted. Furthermore, many households that do have access to soap often use it for laundry, dishwashing or bathing rather than handwashing. In the current climate, without better education and greater access, that could be disastrous.
Why do we celebrate Global Handwashing Day?
The first Global Handwashing Day launched in October 2008, reaching 120 million children in 73 countries across 5 continents. Since that successful introduction, Global Handwashing Day has gone from strength to strength. Last year, over 770 million people across 150 countries were involved. The main aim is simple – an opportunity each year to highlight the importance of handwashing with soap.
Since 2008, Global Handwashing Day has continued to grow. Last year alone, Global Handwashing Day achieved the following success stories.
- Lifebuoy launched an initiative to restructure the alphabet and replace ‘H’ for hat with ‘H’ for handwashing – the campaign engaged more than 130,000 school children and over 100 influencers.
- India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, penned a letter to appeal to all citizens to wash their hands with soap and committed to developing a National Hand Hygiene for All Roadmap.
- HappyTap teamed up with UNICEF to deliver 7,000 HappyTaps to pre-schools in Cambodia.
- United Purpose has supported the repair of 80 wells across The Gambia, ensuring communities have access to safe water so families can wash their hands regularly.
Each year, there’s a different theme for Global Handwashing Day. This year, it’s “Our future is at hand – let’s move forward together.” As we try to move beyond COVID-19, we have a lot of work to do to sustain the current momentum.
What are the benefits of handwashing?
Washing hands is the most effective way to prevent the spread of illnesses that pose continuous challenges to our health and development. Poor hand hygiene can quickly spread germs around shared spaces via common touchpoints, such as door handles and stair rails.
By helping to stop outbreaks, handwashing remains an essential COVID-19 prevention measure while vaccines are being rolled out. Here are some steps for effective handwashing.
As countries try to come to grips with the virus, how we face the threat of future outbreaks and pandemics is critical. Has the pandemic transformed our attitudes to cleanliness? What can businesses do to support rising hygiene expectations and protect their people?
The global hygiene reset report
Driven by fear and the unknown, the world witnessed an increase in handwashing with soap during the early stages of the pandemic. As we move forward, has anything changed?
Our sister company, Initial Hygiene, recently examined the global shifts in societal behavior for hygiene. A total of 20,000 respondents across 20 countries took part in a survey that examined the impact of hygiene attitudes and practices on mental health and wellbeing, employee and organizational expectations and hygiene responsibilities.
The Global Hygiene Reset report revealed that not only have attitudes shifted but so have expectations, with 73% of respondents more aware of germ hotspots as a direct result of the pandemic. So much so, the benchmark of ‘good’ hygiene is far higher than it used to be.
There’s overwhelming evidence that supports infection by airborne particles but while the responsibility for clean air sits firmly on venues’ shoulders, clean hands are regarded as an individual concern. Over 9 in 10 people surveyed (95%) agreed they’re more likely to wash their hands to prevent the spread of germs when using public toilet facilities.
Results from the survey also revealed that the pandemic has led to 64% of people washing their hands more frequently when in public indoor spaces. Interestingly, 66% of respondents intend to maintain these habits in the future, demonstrating a clear shift in behavior due to the pandemic.
Regardless of whether handwashing facilities are available, 58% of respondents will use hand sanitizer in the future to protect against common viruses, demonstrating a more acute awareness of hand hygiene and how easily our hands can transmit germs.
In the workplace, this percentage increases, with 61% – the global average – of people working in shared spaces stating that they’re now likely to sanitize their hands regularly at work to manage hygiene risks. But this statistic varies greatly from country to country. For example, 85% of respondents in South Africa said they would sanitize their hands regularly to manage potential risks in a workplace environment.
Our future is in your hands
Around the world, handwashing practices have not increased equally. People living in fragile settings or low-income and middle-income countries have continued to come up against barriers to handwashing during the pandemic.
Society needs to work together as we aim for universal access to clean handwashing facilities. There’s a tremendous need for collective action to address hand hygiene investments, policies and programs. Businesses must commit to promoting good handwashing practices among their workforces to enable a culture of hand hygiene.
Initial’s Global Hygiene Reset report shows that people feel hygiene must spearhead decisions made by individuals and businesses across the globe. A holistic approach to hygiene should become everyone’s business. Only then can we move forward together.