The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of washing hands for health protection, say policymakers, experts and civil society members.
Speaking at a virtual programme on Wednesday, they focused on ensuring access to soap and water by all classes of people – the poor, children and vulnerable people, and said that the handwashing campaign has to be more vibrant and sustainable.
Meanwhile, in the context of the current novel coronavirus pandemic and as part of building long-term awareness, development partners have suggested the inclusion of "H-for-Handwashing" in the curriculum to strengthen children's hand washing habits.
Handwashing facilities would be a pre-condition for reopening schools, Education Minister Dr Dipu Moni said at the discussion organised on the occasion of Global Hand washing Day 2020.
The programme titled "H for Handwashing – A Protected Hand Means a Protected Nation" was organised by Unilever Bangladesh Ltd (UBL).
Emphasising on the handwashing campaign, Dipu Moni said, "All educational institutions must provide handwashing facilities before reopening. We are including handwashing in textbooks as an important protective measure against Covid-19."
She said trainings at different levels should also touch on the significance of the issue.
"We all know how to wash and stay clean. But these should be given more importance as the way of practice. According to a survey, about 50% of the people in our country are not yet aware enough about proper handwashing.
"Bangladesh has already set a unique example in the world in preventing diarrhea through the discovery of oral saline. Everyone is now realising the importance of handwashing due to the pandemic. Not only to avoid diarrhea or coronavirus, but also to protect children from malnutrition and health problems like worms, everyone needs to be aware of handwashing."
Referring to the current pandemic, the education minister further said, "A campaign can get momentum if needed. Covid-19 has come up with such an opportunity. Covid-19 has raised the issue of not wearing masks and not touching the nose and mouth and washing hands properly. Of these, only by washing our hands can we reduce the rate of spreading disease in our body."
Emphasising on the availability of soap and water, the minister said, "Now, people are carrying mini hand sanitisers with them. If there are mini soaps to carry in pockets or bags, it would be very helpful to washing hands."
Asif Saleh, executive director of Brac, said, "Whether there is a pandemic or not, we have to continue the handwashing campaign. Because health hygiene directly involves human capital development and economic progress.
"It helps decrease lifetime medical costs."
Reefat Bin Sattar, director of programme development and quality at Save the Children Bangladesh, said, "People usually learn all good habits from their childhood. So, we have to make parents aware so that they develop the habit of handwashing among their children."
Dara Johnston of Unicef said, "Still all people are not used to handwashing. We have a long way to go to ensure the practice of handwashing among poor and vulnerable people.
"The survey of 2019 shows that about 75% of the households have hand washing facilities. But the use of soap and health awareness is not satisfactory. However, during this Covid-19 pandemic, awareness about handwashing with soap has increased by 16% amongst the people."
Kedar Lele, chairman and managing director of Unilever Bangladesh Ltd, said, "The Covid-19 pandemic is the right time to make an effort together to ensure health hygiene by washing hands."
Orla Murphy, country director of Plan International Bangladesh; and Hasin Jahan, country director of WaterAid Bangladesh also spoke on the occasion. Bhorer Kagoj Editor Shyamal Dutta moderated the programme.
Lifebuoy launches 'H for Handwashing' initiative
Lifebuoy, a hygiene soap brand, launched a new movement on the occasion of Global Hand washing Day 2020 which aims to develop the importance of handwashing as good behaviour from an early age.
This year Lifebuoy is leading the movement to incorporate "H for Handwashing" in primary education.
Inspired by how children learn their A, B, C, Lifebuoy has reimagined how the letter H is taught by advocating that H stands for Handwashing.
In this endeavour, a petition site was launched on October 6, with a call for action from Lifebuoy Brand Ambassador Shakib Al Hasan to garner support for the "H for Handwashing" movement.
Consumers are being encouraged to show their support for the cause by signing a petition at hforhandwashing.com.
Lifebuoy will mobilise this initiative called "H for Handwashing" through a multi-year campaign where the key focus of this will be to integrate good hygiene practices into early childhood learning through a series of educational activities.