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Pretoria – Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi is on a drive to promote hand washing as a first line of defence against the spread of diseases.

Launching the Public Hand Hygiene Campaign in Pretoria on Monday, the Minister said thorough hand washing with soap can save lives and can play a significant role in reducing the child mortality rate from diarrhoea and pneumonia.

He said both diseases account for 1.7 million deaths of children each year.

“This simple behaviour is an important way for everyone to take health into their own hands,” said Minister Motsoaledi.

He said hand washing can reduce diseases like diarrhoea by 50%.

“Infectious germs on the hands are the most common ways that people spread infection. This is caused by rubbing their noses and eyes with their hands, which can be contaminated with the cold virus and other bacteria,” Minister Motsoaledi said.

The Minister said hand washing around the world is only practised at 20% of critical times.

“At 20%, it means we are still very far from making the practice as common as it should be,” the Minister said.

He encouraged hand washing with soap at schools, homes and communities.

The Minister said hand washing has potential to stop the spread of Ebola.

“Hand washing protection works by washing of [viruses] like Ebola off your hands before they get a chance to infect you either by getting into your body through your skin… or when you touch your eyes, nose and mouth with your hands,” said the Minister.

“Ensuring that the public knows about the role of hand washing in preventing infections and viruses such as Ebola is only one part of the battle. The real challenge comes in ensuring that the behaviour is practised at critical times.”

The Minister said for this behaviour to be practised efficiently, people must have universal convenient access to functional hand washing stations with soap and running water, whether in hospitals or health care centres and their homes.

“The greatest power lies actually in your hands and it is hand washing. This is a proven public health intervention,” he said.

He encouraged people to use sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

He said people need to change their behaviour and actively engage in hand washing by always making sure that clean water and soap is made readily available. He said they must engage in activities that will encourage the habit of hand washing.

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative, Herve Ludovic de Lys, reiterated Minister Motsoaledi’s sentiments, saying hand
washing has proven to be another intervention of decreasing child mortality and morbidity.

De Lys said clean water supply, sanitation and hygiene has a direct impact on reducing infectious diseases, especially diarrhoea.

He said hand washing should also be promoted by religious institutions, non-profit organisations and early childhood development centres.

World Health Organisation (WHO) representative to South Africa, Sarah Barber, said the launch of the Public Hand Hygiene Campaign came at a time when the Ebola outbreak was still a concern for health and mortality.

Barber said some of the people who died from Ebola did not have enough information on how they can prevent themselves from becoming infected.

“For South Africa… this means we must continue to be alert. Everyone has a role to play and your actions matter,” Barber said.

How to wash your hands

Wash your hands with soap and clean water before preparing food; before and after you eat; before feeding a baby and others; after using the toilet; after changing baby nappies and after handling waste.

Step-by-step

  1. Wet your hands thoroughly and use soap;
  2. Rub palms together to scrub;
  3. Rub between fingers;
  4. Rub the back of your hands;
  5. Clean underneath your nails;
  6. Wash your wrist and
  7. Rinse hands thoroughly with clean water and dry your hands