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Theme of Global Handwashing Day necessitates conversations about the importance of hand washing beyond COVID-19

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Experts speaking at a webinar organised by USAID-NISHTHA and Unilever on the occasion of Global Handwashing Day discussed the behavioral changes and evidence based social interventions required to promote healthy hygiene behaviors

While COVID-19 established the importance of hand washing in preventing disease, it also pointed at the glaring lack of hand hygiene that exists across the world. As the slowly world recovers from the pandemic, the importance of hand washing necessitates conversations about the importance of hand washing beyond COVID-19.  The global theme “Our Future is at Hand- Let’s Move Forward Together” continues to highlight the critical role hand hygiene plays in disease transmission with an emphasis on integrating this critical practice through behavioral changes.

Studies suggest that personal behaviors cause more than 50% of illnesses and when these behaviors are optimally corrected through scientific methods, it can effectively contribute towards a healthier population aware of keeping themselves safe through preventive measures. Hand washing, though a basic and widely known method to prevent acquired infections, is often ignored, or not seriously practiced though it is the first line of defense in preventing future outbreaks.

Hand Hygiene has always been the single most important way of reducing the spread of disease and infection in hospitals. It’s particularly important for healthcare professionals such as nurses, midwifes, doctors, and healthcare assistants who regularly come into close contact with patients to ensure robust hygiene practices.

Speaking at a webinar organized by USAID’s flagship health system strengthening project NISHTHA implemented by Jhpiego in collaboration with Unilever on the occasion of Global Handwashing Day, Dr T Dileep Kumar, President, Indian Nursing Council highlighted, ‘A big part of personal hygiene is hand hygiene and incorporating safety measures in developing habits will help avert illnesses and reduce the spread of germs and infections. Auxiliary Nurses and midwives are instrumental in educating communities and galvanizing behavior change at grassroots towards importance of handwashing as preventive care. Creating experiential evidence-based learning with lesser educated communities through nurses and midwives can help instill importance of handwashing.’

Nurses who form 47% of the health workforce in India are often the first point of contact for those who need care the most. As per research, ‘Nurses and Midwifes’ play a major role in identifying behaviors critical to health, assessing the needs of individuals and groups and recommending specific health behaviors, preparing and delivering interventions designed to enhance engagement in health behaviors, and evaluating the effectiveness of interventions for individuals, groups, communities, and the nation. They also play a critical role in educating and helping people to adopt and sustain healthier lifestyle-related behaviors.

Speaking on the role of nurses and midwifes in inducing behavioral change through hand washing in masses, Concluding the discussion by the panelists, Dr Somesh Kumar, Country Director, Jhpiego said, “Personal hygiene is the primary defense to preventing disease and utmost important for our and our community’s health.  Even before COVID-19 pandemic, governments, and health organizations all over the world promoted the need for having clean hands and appropriate handwashing behaviors for disease prevention. Global handwashing day is dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding the importance of handwashing as an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives.”

Nurses and midwifes can be the catalysts for healthier lifestyles across India as was seen during the pandemic. The point of contact for nurses and patients remains much higher than doctors as they carry out almost 80% of patient care tasks. This makes nurses the perfect ambassadors of health promotion by leveraging their professional knowledge through encouragement and teaching to deliver health messages.

In their efforts to spread the importance of hand washing for disease prevention, nurses, midwives and healthcare professionals need to be equipped with right tools to educate the masses. Additionally, they must   be   provided   the resources   and   training   required   to implement   good   hand   hygiene practices   to   respond   to   the   pandemic   and   to   safely   maintain   essential services. By adopting safe means of health promotion, we will move into a new normal where the momentum of hand washing practices continues and helps build a healthier nation.

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