Why you must teach kids to wash their hands

It's not just good manners to wash hands, it can prevent diseases and save lives.

17 October 2018
By Glynis Horning

You may not have heard of it, but this year’s Global Handwashing Day will be the 10th marked in more than 100 countries and endorsed by international institutions like UNICEF and the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

This year’s theme is “Clean hands – a recipe for health”, and focuses on the connection between handwashing and food. It couldn’t be more apt in South Africa, coming after nearly 190 people died in what the World Health Organisation (WHO) has described as the biggest documented outbreak of the food-borne disease listeriosis.

“Handwashing at critical times, especially before cooking, eating, or feeding others is one of the most important ways to keep food clean and safe, prevent diseases and help children grow strong,” say the organisers, the Global Handwashing Partnership. “Connecting handwashing to an existing habit, like a meal, is a great way to form proper handwashing habits.”

Frequent handwashing has been shown to reduce the risk of everything from diarrhoea and pneumonia to flu, urinary tract infections, meningitis and Ebola. Which is important as diarrhoea and pneumonia are the leading causes of death for children under the age of 5.

Remind your child that:

1. They can’t see germs

Germs are all around us, says Nevashan Govender, emergency operations centre manager at the NICD. And while some of them are good, others are bad. Germs will be found on toys, cellphones, computer keyboards, shopping trolleys, stair rails and playground equipment; and especially in body excretions like faeces, phlegm and nasal mucous.

2. Bad germs can make you sick

Germs invade your body’s immune system, multiplying, producing toxins, and causing anything from a minor gastric upset to dangerous diarrhoea.

3. Washing your hands prevents germs being spread

If you touch a germ-laden hand to your eyes, nose or mouth, you let the germs get inside your body, where they can cause illness. And if you touch other surfaces, other people can pick up the germs and become sick in the same way.

4. Protect yourself

You can protect yourself and stay healthy by washing your hands whenever you’ve been to the toilet, or come in from school or from playing outdoors or with pets or going to the shops. According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, properly washing and drying your hands lowers your risk of getting diarrhoea by a third, and getting a respiratory illness by up to a fifth.

5. You need to wash hands properly

Wash with soap (it removes germs far more effectively), and warm or cold water. Lather well, rubbing your hands together and scrubbing all surfaces, including the backs of hands and between your fingers, for at least 20 seconds – the time it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song twice. Rinse and dry well, preferably with clean paper towel.

If there are no taps or soap handy, alcohol-based hand sanitisers that require no water are “an acceptable alternative”, reports the Mayo Clinic – just check that they contain at least 60% alcohol.

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IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images