According to UNICEF nine out of 10 schools in Nigeria have no handwashing facilities for students. This, according to the UN agency, does not augur well for the fight against infectious diseases.
UNICEF said in a report that in 2018, only 21 per cent of Nigerians had access to basic handwashing facilities at home adding, that the figure dropped to 16 per cent in 2019.
“The global response efforts to the COVID-19 pandemic created an unprecedented hand hygiene culture, yet, progress remains far too slow for the most vulnerable and underserved communities, “UNICEF said.
A Ghana Demographic and Health Survey, UNICEF said, showed that while more than half of Ghanaian households have designated places for washing hands, only about one household out of every five has water or other cleansing agents available at home.
Nigeria’s statistics is even worse when compared to the less developed countries, where only 7 out of 10 schools lack basic hand washing facilities.
Experts say hand hygiene reduces the transmission of communicable diseases. Therefore, poor hand hygiene practice in schools, workplaces, homes and marketplaces even in hospitals remains a public health challenge.
The World Health Organisation states that 50 per cent of healthcare facilities worldwide lack basic hygiene, while about 32 per cent of healthcare facilities in Africa do not have access to hand hygiene facilities at the points of care.
Public health experts suggest that hand hygiene should be entrenched as a routine clean care habit for everyone, especially in health care facilities, schools, crowded public spaces, camps, and prisons.
According to Dr Jean Kaseya, Director-General, Africa Centre for Disease Control, hand hygiene practices are critical in reducing the transmission of infections, particularly during disease outbreaks such as Ebola, SARS, Influenza, and currently, COVID-19.
Kaseya said in a goodwill message in commemoration of 2022 world hand hygiene day that improving hand hygiene could also reduce the occurrence of diseases like diarrhoea and respiratory infections.
According to Dr Chris Eleoma, Director Community Health Services, National Primary Health Care Agency, handwashing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of diseases and save lives.
He told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that Nigerians should build on the handwashing gains of COVID-19 to make hand hygiene a culture.
He said that there was need for more investment in water, sanitation and hygiene to help prevent the outbreak of communicable diseases in communities.
Dr Tochi Okwor said it was important to recognised that workers were at the forefront of the country’s response strategy to prevent outbreaks of infectious diseases.
Okwor is the Assistant Director, Infection Prevention and Control (IPC), Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
Okwor said it was unfortunate that some health workers did not pay attention to health hygiene.
He advised them to wash their hands “before touching a patient, before a clean/aseptic procedure, after body fluid exposure risk, after touching a patient and after touching the patient’s surroundings.
“The patient is at the centre of the care. The patient could be you or me. We are either patients today or patients in the future.
“We need to empower healthcare workers to do regular hand hygiene and we also need patients to get involved.
Maintaining hand hygiene does not come by accident, it is cultivated.
Dr Rita Okonkwo, Global Health Security Manager and Research Scientist, Institute of Human Virologist Nigeria (IHVN) said that there were two sides to building a culture of hand hygiene.
Okonkwo told NAN that health workers were expected to maintain a culture of hand hygiene during while giving care and support.
“IHVN is using empirical data to create targeted hand hygiene interventions. Based on our assessments, we see the need to create more holistic efforts towards improving systems that sustain the culture of hand hygiene,” she said.
According to experts given its importance in disease prevention and control and seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, stakeholders should take advantage of the traditional and new media to promote hand hygiene culture in Nigeria.
They also advocate that handwashing should be included in the curriculum at primary and Junior Secondary School levels so that Nigerians would inculcate the culture from young age.
They further advance that hospitals and health centres should provide handwashing facilities and make it mandatory for care givers to use them before and after attending to patients.
Source: News Agency of Nigeria