Hey, everyone knows that you should wash your hands after using the toilet, right? And we all do it, right? Well truth be told, only 19% of the world’s population wash their hands after using the bathroom! People from richer more developed countries wash more (48% to 72%) than those from poorer countries (5% to 25%). Vigorously washing your hands at key times with running water is well known to reduce diarrhoeal disease and acute respiratory infection.
Thanks to a generous donation from Denver Rotary # 31, One School at a Time recently installed hand-washing stations (a 2,000 L water tank filled by rainwater from the latrine roof) next to the latrines at each of our 6 partner schools so that all 2,500 students have the opportunity to wash their hands and stay healthy! Those tanks will provide water right where it is needed, but what about the soap? Sure, One School could give our partner schools soap for the kids to use… but over time, the soap will run out and they will be back to washing without it.
So, we wondered, how much work is the soap actually doing- is it necessary? We found that the rate of diarrhea can be reduced by half simply by washing with water alone! Soap only reduced the transmission rate of disease about 3% further. To understand why this might be, it’s helpful to know how soap works. Well, as we all know, soap is slippery- the bacteria struggle to grip onto your hands when soap is applied and get rinsed away. Which brings us to hand-washing technique: the more vigorously you rub your hands together (between the fingers and near the nails) and the longer you spend doing that, the greater the chance of dislodging the miscreants which will make you sick later. For best results, wash for at least 20 seconds, which for most of us will be a challenge!
Fund, Brian, 2012. Soap: How Much Cleaner Does it Actually Make Your Hands? The Atlantic.
Freeman, Matthew et al, 2014. Systematic review: Hygiene and health: systematic review of hand-washing practices worldwide and update of health effects. Tropical Medicine and International Health, pg. 906-916.