For the 11th Global Handwashing Day, Lifebuoy aims to change behaviours surrounding hand hygiene among children and adults. Since hands are responsible for the spread of 80% of common infectious diseases, effective hand hygiene continues to be universally recognised as the smartest, most cost-effective means of infection control.
A highly contagious, infectious diseases that can be passed through a simple touch is Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD). When an infected person sneezes or coughs into their hands, germs are present. Without proper handwashing or disinfecting, these germs are passed on to people or things they come into contact with, causing the disease to spread.
Head & Senior Disease Consultant Physician at the Department of Medicine, Hospital Sungai Buloh, Datuk Dr. Christopher Lee said that unclean hands are considered the most significant medium to pathogen transfer. Of many of the recent pandemic outbreaks, good hand hygiene has been one of the key factors in restricting the transfer of bacteria, viruses, and other microbes from sources of contamination.
“Young children are particularly susceptible to infectious diseases, as they are more care-free and less cautious when it comes to rubbing their eyes, or noes after contact with other people or things. They have higher propensity to pick up disease-causing germs easily. Thus, it is crucial to educate children on proper hand hygiene by washing their hands regularly with soap and water. Together with proper techniques, this simple act of handwashing can effectively reduce pathogens that cause diseases in most situations. Proper hand hygiene also includes washing hands on key occasions – for example, after going to the toilet, and before eating which can significantly reduce the transmission of infectious diseases,” he added.
HMFD has become an important public health disease in Malaysia due to its tendency to cause large outbreaks and deaths among children and infants. A recent 28% spike in Malaysian HMFD cases has been recorded as of June 30, 2018, compared to the same period last year. To combat this, Lifebuoy advocates for education on the importance of handwashing with soap and the impact that unclean hands have on the transmission of diseases.
Over the years, Lifebuoy has invested over RM1 million to teach the practice of proper hand hygiene in proper hand hygiene in both primary school and kindergarten through its School of 5 Handwashing Programme. This programme facilitates behavioural change to encourage children and families to adopt proper hand washing habits using soap. Since it started in 2015, Lifebuoy’s School of 5 Programme has reached out to 223,258 children in Malaysia.
Lifebuoy has also collaborated with the Ministry of Health to initiated a pilot project in Sarawak to measure the impact of behavioural change through hand hygiene education among mothers and pre-school children. Through the Sarawak Programme, Lifebuoy aims to reinforce that consistent education can positively impact behavioural change among children.
A survey was conducted with over 2,000 parents to understand and identify their basic hygiene habits, as well as knowledge around infectious diseases like HFMD. There are two components the survey – a pre-survey to ascertain their hygiene habits and HMFD knowledge prior to conducting School of 5 Programme with the children’s’ schools, and a post-survey 21 days after concluding the programme.
The programme has demonstrated a positive increase in the children’s behaviour. A 2% increase was recorded in their handwashing behaviour across notable occasions such as before and after eating, as well as after using the toilet. The respondents have also shown an increase in the use of soap during handwashing post the Lifebuoy programme, with a 13% increase in the use of soap after visiting the toilet, a 12%and 6% increase in the use of soap before and after meals respectively.
“These results prove that our efforts in cultivating good hand hygiene are successful and impactful. We believe that habit forming starts from young, thus our focus on educating pre-schoolers and primary school children. Lifebuoy is fully committed towards building a healthier Malaysia through the simple yet effective act of handwashing with soap. Driven by a larger purpose, Lifebuoy has been on a mission to touch as many people as possible to drive the formation of this very habit. Our vision is to instil proper handwashing behaviour in 1 billion people globally by 2020,” said Vincent Chong, Beauty, Personal Care, and Home Care Director, Unilever Malaysia.
The behaviour of parents and teachers are extremely influential to kids. Paul Jambunathan, Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Senior Lecturer at Monash University, said that attitudes and behaviours that children learn during their school years could have impact on their life-long health.
“Parents must be empowered to become actively involved in their children’s overall development including health-related behaviours, as habits are ingrained when they are developed at an early age. As parents, teaching children good handwashing techniques and habits can keep them healthier by protecting themselves against touch-related infections and this safeguard their future.”
A medical centre in New Jersey recently suffered an adenovirus outbreak that saw the deaths of six children and left a dozen more infected. The inspection team found minor handwashing deficiencies at the centre, which could be attributed to the spread of the virus.
By enhancing the understanding of the importance of handwashing and taking a proactive role in our personal hygiene, Lifebuoy aspires to curb the spread of infectious disease.