Why the hand hygiene lesson we learned during Covid-19 should still be practised

  • Family
  • Saturday, 11 Nov 2023

Hand hygiene can help reduce the spread of infections, protecting one in three children affected by diarrhoea. — Photos: Dettol Malaysia

WHILE the World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced in May that Covid-19 has ceased to be a public health emergency, the lessons learnt during the pandemic should remain, especially the emphasis on hand hygiene.

The diminishing practices of handwashing and hygiene would see a rise in communicable diseases.

Infectious disease expert Prof Dr Zamberi Sekawi says locally, the top five common infections since 2021 are Covid-19, dengue fever, tuberculosis, food poisoning and hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD). “Three of these can be mitigated through the practice of good hand hygiene,” he adds.

“Some may have relaxed their good habits – including hand hygiene practices – as pandemic-related restrictions and concerns have eased. But the extent to which these habits are retained or forgotten can vary among individuals and communities,” Zamberi says.

The Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) lecturer and senior consultant clinical microbiologist adds that it is essential to continue promoting and practising good habits like hand hygiene to curb the spread of infectious diseases.

In the battle against infectious diseases, Zamberi says, good hygiene practices are our first line of defence,”

Zamberi was one of the panellists at a discussion organised by Dettol in collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MOH), Global Hygiene Council (GHC) and Watsons to mark Global Handwashing Day 2023.

In the discussion, GHC endorses that hygiene practices like handwashing demonstrate an accessible means to tackling anti-microbial resistance (AMR) through reducing the risk of infection and the need for antibiotics.

Zamberi says parents can use age-appropriate methods like storytelling, games and songs, to teach young children about hand hygiene.Zamberi says parents can use age-appropriate methods like storytelling, games and songs, to teach young children about hand hygiene.

Keep hands clean

Hand hygiene can help reduce the spread of infections, protecting one in three children from being affected by diarrhoea. It has also shown a 30% reduction in antibiotic prescriptions for children with respiratory infections.

Zamberi says the recent global challenges posed by infectious diseases have underscored the urgency of adhering to these basic yet effective measures.

“By incorporating good hygiene into our daily routines and promoting its importance within our communities, we can collectively mitigate the spread of infectious diseases and build a healthier society,” he adds.

Handwashing practice, he says, also helps minimise the impact and duration of a flu outbreak in a family, which is due to lower community immunity brought about by lockdowns, social distancing and mask-wearing.

While clear and accessible information on the importance of handwashing helps to reinstate the practice in the community, Zamberi believes it should ideally start from one’s home.

“Adults in the family should set an example by consistently practising good hand hygiene themselves and incorporating it into their daily routine,” he says.

For instance, he says parents should encourage all family members to wash their hands when they return home, before meals and after using the restroom.

To teach small children, Zamberi suggests making handwashing a fun and engaging activity. “Use age-appropriate methods like storytelling, games and songs,” he says.

Meanwhile, MOH family physician Dr Ho Bee Kiau says good hygiene practices are the cornerstone of a healthier society.

“By embracing proper hygiene habits, we fortify our collective resilience, nurturing a safer and more vibrant community for all,” she says at the discussion.

The discussion was held to support MOH’s Madani Afiat programme, a platform designed by the ministry to distribute essential disease prevention and hygiene information to the public through community outreach.

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