Keep hands clean to avoid sickness

2015-10-20 06:00

Global Handwashing Day has created an opportunity to celebrate good hygiene.

The annual Day, which was celebrated on Friday, is an apt time to remind and challenge the public about the importance of hygiene in the fight against diseases and illnesses, says Siyabulela Mamkeli, mayoral committee member for health.

“Much of [the City of Cape Town’s] focus is in informal settlements where ready access to running water and sanitation can be a challenge.

“However, to achieve optimal benefits of water and sanitation interventions, residents must be educated on the link between water, sanitation, hygiene practices, disease and health. Research has shown that keeping hands clean is one of the most effective and most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others; and that many diseases and infections such as diarrhoea in children are spread by not practising safer hygiene, particularly washing hands using clean water and soap,” says Mamkeli.

Squeeze for healthThe City’s health department, along with other departments, conduct ongoing education and awareness campaigns, while also promoting the use of alternatives like the “squeeze” bottle – a used 2-litre cooldrink bottle which works as a hand-washing tool.

“In the last financial year, our environmental health practitioners conducted 1018 health and hygiene projects in informal settlements, including visits to early childhood development centres, schools, and informal traders,” says Mamkeli.

“However, our hygiene focus is not limited to areas with infrastructure challenges. The promotion of good hygiene practices like handwashing are key to our diarrhoea prevention campaign. The fact that we saw a more than 50% reduction in the number of deaths in children under five during the last diarrhoea season bears testimony to the impact of our efforts.”

Environmental health practitioners also conduct more than 20 000 food safety visits yearly to formal and informal food vendors.

In terms of legislation, food premises must have areas that are suitable for the hygienic preparation of food and protection against contamination. This includes having proper handwashing and washing up facilities.

“Another challenge is that, even where there are proper facilities and access, it is not guaranteed that everyone will wash their hands,” says Mamkeli. “It is far too common a sight in public bathrooms for people to leave after using the toilet without washing their hands. The concept of handwashing and hygiene is not new and so it leaves me gobsmacked that so many people continue to treat hygiene, and handwashing in particular, with such disdain.”

Mamkeli says residents should use Global Handwashing Day as a platform as hygiene champions and spread the message that handwashing is not a luxury, but a necessity

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