A handmade clay doll, a dirty little pebble, a mud-drenched play ball – just a few of the many goodies a child brings back home. But, with them come the unwelcome guests in the form of disease-yielding germs. Yes, it is never easy to stop your child from the muddy world outside. It can get more difficult when he does not pay heed to your repeated calls to wash his hands or take a shower.
Handwashing is the primary defence mechanism against germs. It is by far the most effective way to keep children from falling sick. When your child comes in contact with disease-prone germs, she inadvertently becomes a germ-carrier. All it takes is a touch. Coming in contact with infected eyes, nose, mouth, hands or even sharing the same breathing space can prove damaging. One member infected is all it takes for the entire family to be dragged down by the same bug. Dirty hands have the potential to become the root cause of many ailments.
Dirty hands are dangerous hands
“Children need to be taught that washing hands is the best way to avoid ailments like runny nose, bad throat, tummy aches and even itchy skin. Get your child to think about all the things they touched during the day - from toilet to telephone, and then teach them how they might have caught millions of germs through these contacts. Parents should instill an element of fun while teaching their children the importance of keeping their hands clean. I strongly believe that every parent should lead by example," opines Dr Pooja Bhriegu, Chief Paediatrician and Director, Bhriegu Maternity Hospital, Raipur.
Although the WHO and other health bodies around the world have been stressing on handwashing for the last 200 years, it took an outbreak of the dreaded Ebola to come as the wake-up call. The Global Handwashing Day, which had become a photo-op event for several years, has come to life again.
Most effective preventive measure
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set off on a massive Swachh Bharat Abhiyan drive and one of the important elements of the campaign is handwashing. As Modi indicated, no amount of social initiative will suffice unless the urge to keep clean becomes our core value. To drive home this message, he has urged parents to inculcate the habit of washing hands right from toddler years. The Prime Minister’s initiative is being hailed as a step in the right direction.
"Healthy living and hygienic habits are a lifestyle choice that everyone must make. We should recognise that as a country that's becoming increasingly progressive, Modi's initiative is commendable. As far as washing hands is concerned, it is the most basic and most effective preventive measure. Over 65 percent of infections can be countered through the simple act of washing hands. However, overdoing it is also not advisable as it can rip the skin off moisture and lower our inbuilt immunity," says Dr Manoj Beno, Medical Director of Billroth Hospitals, Chennai.
The hands-on verdict
As a parent, you can set an example by practising what you preach. Good washing habits can eradicate diseases even before they manifest. In our crusade against the relentless invasion of germs and viruses, the most effective solution is ironically the simplest too. Go, get your child to enjoy handwashing. All you need is soap and water, and plenty of intent. After all, you’d be the happiest person if your household is the healthiest.
How to handwash
This step-by-step instruction will help you maximise the goodness of washing hands:
- Wet your hands with clean running water
- Lather up with soap, preferably an anti-bacterial
- Scrub your fingers and nails
- Scrub the inside of your palm for a minimum of 20 seconds
- Rinse thoroughly
- Pat dry with a clean towel
- Always carry purse sanitizer to keep germs at bay
When to handwash
Ensure your child washes hands with a soap:
- Before and after every meal
- Before and after using the restroom
- Before holding an infant
- Before and after shaking hands with someone who’s sick
- Before and after treating cuts, abrasions or wounds
- After outdoor playtime
- After visiting the hospital, though a shower is more advisable here
- After soiling his hands in the mud
- After blowing his nose, coughing or sneezing
- After playing and cuddling with pets
- After using public transport
Only if everyone washed hands
- Just 77% of men washed their hands, compared to 93% of women.
- Washing hands with soap will help almost 1 out of 6 young children with respiratory infections like Pneumonia.
- About 2.2 million children under the age of 5 die each year from diarrheal diseases and pneumonia
- 1.7 million child deaths occur in India annually. That includes almost 5,000 deaths due to infectious diseases
- Washing hands will reduce respiratory illnesses, like common cold, in our general population by 21%
- Diarrhea alone kills 13% of children under the age of five
- Common cold is responsible for 22 million lost school days each year
- UNICEF estimated that only 31 percent of children have access to basic sanitation in India such as clean water