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- hand washing. Simplistic as it may be, handwashing represents one of the first lines of defense and together with social distancing, wearing masks, coughing on your elbow and general self-care have cemented the success on the anti Covid-19 frontline.
Cognizant of this, on October 15 the world will celebrate 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 that will be led by the First Lady H. E. Margaret Kenyatta represents 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 not only has it helped us keep the Covid-19 curve relatively flat. In addition, consistent and regular handwashing coupled by other behavioral changes has also brought about significant reduction of other opportunistic diseases like diarhhorea, 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 must be repositioned and elevated in terms priority focus areas.
This success thus far has come about via public, private partnership synergies with the NBCC and its partners playing a critical role in ensuring vulnerable and marginalized communities get access to much needed hand washing facilities. To this end the coalition has delivered over 7500 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 and create a culture of hand hygiene.
According to Dr. Myriam Sidibe chair of the NBCC coalition, handwashing and other interventions have helped the government and our coalition partners realize significant wins while helping in keeping the curve flat. She added “the need to reinforce key messages and ensure long term success of this initiative, we are now adding an element of behaviour change to imprint our interventions and make our efforts sustainable and second nature.”
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 shape of a dynamic and adaptive process that we will grow with in order 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 the early adopters and laggards in this conversation.
As stakeholders look at lasting solutions beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, it is critical that efforts so far be complemented by government taking lead and elevating hand washing as a critical and key intervention. This will include among others allocating higher budgets, dedicating additional human resource and giving access to hand washing 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.