Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wash Your Hands!

Hey, moms and dads! Did you know that by teaching your kids to wash their hands correctly, you are engaging in one of the most effective global health activities our world has ever seen? Happy Global Handwashing Day!!!!

Boy, this is one of my favorite global health awareness campaigns. Because we're not just talking about funding for malaria bednets or vaccine distribution to faraway places (although those are vitally important as well). We're talking about something simple each of us can do. It's a choice you make multiple times a day to improve the lives of everyone in our families, our communities, and our planet. 

Handwashing with soap is easy, effective, affordable, and literally saves lives. Why? Because human feces are the main source of diarreal pathogens. They are the source of all sorts of gastro-enteric infections and some respiratory infections like influenza and pneumonia. According to , a single gram of human feces can contain 10 million viruses & one million bacteria. Gross! Considering the amount of poop a mom of toddlers deals with on a daily basis, we should be thinking about washing our hands all....the...time. It just prevents so many things:

Worried about pneumonia? Wash your hands!
Worried about rotovirus? Wash your hands!
Worried about worms? Wash your hands!
Worried about impetigo? Wash your hands!
Worried about Ebola? Wash your hands!
Because handwashing can prevent the transmission of a variety of pathogens, it may be more effective than any single vaccine. 
Promoted on a wide enough scale, handwashing with soap can be thought of as a "do-it-yourself" vaccine. Ingraining the habit of handwashing could save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention. (Another side note: THIS DOES NOT REPLACE VACCINES! So, don't even try to tell me your superb hygiene skills are why you're not vaccinating against measles.)

Students in Kampala wash up to prevent disease
You might be thinking, "I know. I'm a clean person. You're a global poverty activist, so you're just worried about developing countries again." Yes and no. YES, it's a problem in developing countries. On my trip to Uganda with Shot@Life, I met students washing their hands in the one spigot provided for their whole school of several hundred kids and no soap. They taught the children songs and theatrical skits about sanitation along with their ABC's to combat the real problem of life-threatening diseases passed among students. But, NO it's not just about countries with extreme poverty. Even in places where handwashing is the norm and soap & clean water are plentiful, people often fail to wash up with soap. A study in England found that people washed their hands only about half the time after cleaning a poopy child. Ack! A recent study of doctors' handwashing practices in the U.S. found they failed to wash up with soap between patient visits surprisingly often. But handwashing with soap is incredibly important here as it is in Liberia.

So, let's have a review shall we? What is the "correct" way to wash hands? Proper handwashing requires soap and only a small amount of water. 
  • Cover wet hands with soap
  • Scrub all surfaces...backs, fronts, in-betweens and especially under fingernails
  • Scrub for 20 seconds...the time it takes to sing your ABC's or Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
  • Rinse with clean water

Want some really simple terms with cute pictures? 

After you do this....

Make sure you do this...

 So, we can all safely do these things...

For more info on the global impact of the simple act of handwashing, visit

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