Hygiene keeps infections at bay

The experts say the spread of disease can be significantly reduced by following basic rules of hygiene. Step one ... wash your hands.

Good health starts with good basic hygiene, the experts say. And key to slowing the spread of infectious diseases is that children, and adults, are taught to wash their hands regularly. Stephen Lock / The National
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DUBAI // The simple act of washing your hands can drastically curtail the spread of disease, save lives, and should be promoted among children and adults, health experts told a conference in the city.

The Dubai Health Authority outlined a plan to spread the basic hygiene message to schools across the country and the region.

“We are interested in a long-term commitment and the first phase will be reaching schools to spread the message how washing hands can help to stop the spread of infections,” said AlAnood Doei, the head of branding and communication atDHA.

“Then we plan to take this to government sectors and inform parents and the older community. The numbers and statistics on how infections are spread are shocking. We believe if simple measures of hygiene are followed then we can fight diseases.”

The DHA signed an agreement with Unilever at “Hand in Hand Against Infections”, a conference held in Dubai to promote the importance of hygiene.

Diarrhoea and pneumonia are the world’s two leading killer diseases of children. About 6.6 million children worldwide – or 18,000 children a day – died before their fifth birthday in 2012, according to a report released by the World Health Organisation last year.

“Hands are the vehicles of infection and touching your face or eyes is the means of transmission,” said Lisa Ackerley, a professional fellow with the Royal Society for Public Health and a visiting professor of environmental health at the University of Salford, UK.

“Many pass on diseases unknowingly. Washing hands can help to avoid transmitting the cold and flu virus. Raw food can also be a source of food poisoning and by handling raw food, the hands become the motorways of infection. So your hands can get contaminated even by a shopping cart. Kitchen cloths are also vehicles of spreading disease. But instead of getting very anxious, what people must do is take necessary precautions and wash hands before eating. The answer is to be aware and make behavioural changes, help people understand the root of the disease.”

It was vital to spread the message to children, adults and caterers to wash their hands after using the toilet and to ensure hands were washed after handling raw meat because this could also curb the spread of infections, Ms Ackerley said.

Since 2010, Unilever has reached 1.8 million schoolchildren in the Arabian Gulf and conducts hygiene programmes in labour camps as well.

To plot the impact of promoting hand hygiene, a clinical trial on 2,000 families was carried out in 2007 in Mumbai, India. It showed diarrheal infections were reduced by 25 per cent, respiratory infections by 15 per cent, while school attendance rose by 40 per cent.

“We have already reached 183 million people in 23 countries in the world’s largest hand-hygiene campaign and we’ve done this through children-friendly campaigns in schools, reaching out to young mothers in neo-natal clinics and going into rural areas,” said Sabeen Fazli, Unilever’s marketing director for personal care in the Gulf.

“We aim to spread the word among children and mothers to change people’s handwashing behaviour and help them to understand that this can save lives.”

rtalwar@thenational.ae

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