World Hand Washing Day: Beyond the commemoration


On 14 October, Nigerians joined millions of people worldwide to mark the 2015 World Hand Washing Day, which had the theme “Hand washing with soap saves lives”. The annual event was designed seven years ago to raise awareness, foster and support a global and local culture of hand washing with soap. Its ultimate focus is to beam a spotlight on the state of hand washing around the world and raise awareness about the benefits of washing the hands with soap.

To mark the day in Nigeria, organisations like the Concern Universal, which is behind the “Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion in Nigeria (RUSHPIN)” initiative, as well as UNICEF, organised awareness and sensitisation campaigns on proper hand washing as essential hygiene practice in various parts of the country.

We consider these campaigns to be well-timed and absolutely necessary, especially as recent findings from surveys have suggested that only four per cent of Nigerian children wash their hands regularly, and only very few adults imbibe the habit. More alarmingly, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that over 80 per cent of infections are transmitted into the body through the hand; while medical experts have equally alerted that infections and diseases which are transmitted into the body through the hand include diarrhoea and pneumonia, which are fairly common in this part of the world.

The significance of the World Hand Washing Day is further reinforced by the fact that the 2015 edition was marked about the same time Nigeria was celebrating one year of being declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organisation. None would forget so soon how, at the height of the battle to contain the Ebola outbreak in the country, regular hand washing as a means of disease-prevention became a popular culture. Scared of the deadly virus, Nigerians in their millions suddenly became passionate about regular hand washing, with many familiarising themselves with the benefits of sanitisers to avoid falling victim to the disease. Banks, schools, companies and other public institutions made laudable arrangements to sensitise and encourage Nigerians to wash their hands as Ebola continued its deadly rampage.

It is however lamentable that since the country was declared Ebola-free by the WHO, Nigerians have gradually returned to their old ways of paying little or no attention to the importance and health benefits of regular and proper hand-washing as a means of preventing diseases. This is wrong and must be discouraged.

Aside from the threat of a fresh Ebola outbreak which is still possible as long as the disease is yet to be cleared from neighbouring countries, experts have also recommended that regular and proper hand-washing can help prevent other bacteria, parasites and viruses transmission that can cause infections and diseases.

The hygiene culture imbibed by virtually all Nigerians through the threat of Ebola should not be discarded because of success recorded against the disease. Nor should the practice only be remembered and observed on a specified day. It must, of a necessity, be entrenched in our daily lives and emphasised to all as one of the most important steps to avoid getting ill and spreading germs to others. As the WHO has emphasised, hand hygiene contributes significantly to keeping infections at bay and it is a low-cost action that helps prevent the spread of many microbes that cause health care-associated infections. So important does the apex health institution consider hand hygiene that it issued what it called “hand hygiene guidelines.”

The Nigerian government, public and private institutions, and indeed the entire citizenry must collectively learn from this and use the opportunity of the Global Hand Washing Day campaign to revive, sustain and consider hand washing culture as a vital part of healthy living and disease prevention. With this, the country will not only prevent a new Ebola outbreak but also avert other diseases that are preventable through good hygiene.

We must institutionalise the culture of preventive care in Nigeria, and adopting the practice of regular and proper hand washing will go a long way in setting Nigerians on this desirable path.