Increasing awareness and preventing disease on this Global Handwashing Day
“Wash your hands!” is a phrase I bark constantly at my son. Usually followed with: “using soap!” As a child of the COVID-19 era, he has washed or sanitised his hands more times this year than I did during my entire childhood. Ok, that might be an exaggeration, but handwashing has been a constant theme of 2020.
While I take for granted clean running water, soap, and hand sanitiser, only 60% of the world’s population has access to basic handwashing facilities. This means that billions of people don’t use one of the most important weapons we have against COVID-19 and a myriad of other infectious diseases such as gastrointestinal infections like salmonella and intestinal parasites.
Professor Darren Gray, an infectious disease epidemiologist and Head of the Department of Global Health, leads major research programs investigating the impact of water, sanitation and hygiene on infectious diseases.
“We develop and/or evaluate water and sanitation interventions as well as hygiene education programs alone and in combination that aim to control and eliminate infectious diseases in the Asia-Pacific,” says Gray.
One project the team is currently working on is the evaluation of a silicon water bottle attachment that transforms bottles into a flow controllable portable tap, called SPATAP.
“We’re always looking for innovative low-cost and efficient solutions that can improve the health of people living in remote communities. SPATAP is one such solution that we’re evaluating for hand washing for populations where water is scarce,” says Gray.
Dr Aparna Lal, an environmental health expert who is leading the SPATAP evaluation, is keen to help address hygiene inequality.
“This year’s theme for Global Handwashing Day is ‘Hygiene for All’ and there is no better time to remind us that clean, running water is essential to save lives. Water access is a global issue that demands collective action now,” says Lal.
Indeed COVID-19 has highlighted not only the critical role hand hygiene plays in disease transmission, but the global inequality in access to basic sanitation and hygiene measures.
“The pandemic presents an opportune time to make sure that water access becomes universal. Climate change further amplifies the risks posed by unsafe and inadequate water supplies. SPATAP will initially be rolled out across schools in urban and rural areas in Fiji. By regulating the amount of water that dispenses, SPATAP will help ensure that more children can wash their hands with a limited amount of water,” says Lal.
With greater access to clean running water, hopefully, more parents will be able to demand handwashing to disgruntled, dirty handed children as I do.
**** For more information about Global Handwashing Day visit their website at: https://globalhandwashing.org/global-handwashing-day/