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#WASH4Wellbeing - Wellbeing Foundation Africa Expands Hand Hygiene Resources To Nigerian Languages

We are pleased today to launch our multi-language hand hygiene instructional tools on proper handwashing with soap and water, in Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba, to reach more Nigerians in the widely spoken languages.

Why is #HandHygiene so important for good health and wellbeing?


Handwashing has been a central component of personal hygiene and a religious and cultural custom for many years. However, the link between handwashing and health was first made less than two centuries ago.

Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor working in Vienna General Hospital, is known as the father of hand hygiene. In 1846, he noticed that the women giving birth in the medical student/doctor-run maternity ward in his hospital were much more likely to develop a fever and die compared to the women giving birth in the adjacent midwife-run maternity ward. He decided to investigate, seeking differences between the two wards. He noticed that doctors and medical students often visited the maternity ward directly after performing an autopsy. Based on this observation, he developed a theory that those performing autopsies got ‘cadaverous particles’ on their hands, which they then carried from the autopsy room into the maternity ward. Midwives did not conduct surgery or autopsies, so they were not exposed to these particles.

As a result, Semmelweis imposed a new rule mandating handwashing with chlorine for doctors. The rates of death in his maternity ward fell dramatically. This was the first proof that cleansing hands could prevent infection. However, the innovation was not popular with everyone:  some doctors were disgruntled that Semmelweis was implying that they were to blame for the deaths and they stopped washing their hands, arguing in support of the prevailing notion at that time that water was the potential cause of disease. Semmelweis tried to persuade other doctors in European hospitals of the benefits of handwashing, but to no avail.

A few years later in Scutari, Italy, the Crimean War brought about a new handwashing champion, Florence Nightingale. At a time when most people believed that infections were caused by foul odors called miasmas, Florence Nightingale implemented handwashing and other hygiene practices in the war hospital in which she worked. While the target of these practices was to fight the miasmas, Nightingale’s handwashing practices achieved a reduction in infections.

Sadly, the hand hygiene practices promoted by Semmelweis and Nightingale were not widely adopted. In general, handwashing promotion stood still for over a century. It was not until the 1980s, when a string of foodborne outbreaks and healthcare-associated infections led to public concern that the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified hand hygiene as an important way to prevent the spread of infection. In doing so, they heralded the first nationally endorsed hand hygiene guidelines, and many more have followed a hand hygiene standard reinforced by the World Health Organisation Resolution EB144/CONF./2 Rev.1: Water, sanitation and hygiene in health care facilities, at the 144th World Health Organization Board Meetings in 2019.

Since the Wellbeing Foundation Africa was established in 2004, we have promoted handwashing with soap and other forms of hand hygiene as the essential cost-effective, essential tool for achieving good health and nutrition in health facilities, households and schools. Now that its effectiveness is no longer in question, the main focus is on how to make handwashing universal. In April 2018 we launched our WASH For Wellbeing Challenge–sustained handwashing practice at key times– to promote hand hygiene with new thinking about behavior change, such as habit formation and nudges, increased research into the impact of hygiene, in collaboration with Global Water 2020 and the Global Handwashing Partnership.

Every week the Wellbeing Foundation Africa's #MamaCare360 Midwives, #SanitationAngels the home grown Florence Nightingale's at the front, centre and heart of all our initiatives and interventions #TeachClean #HandHygiene to thousands of mothers, children and healthworkers at over 570 health facilities and schools in frontline communities across Nigeria to promote handwashing with soap and water for infection prevention and control.

The expansion of our health information resources, particularly on hand hygiene to 3 major Nigerian languages allows us to reach more mothers, families, households, health facilities and communities to ensure mass-uptake of this much needed infection prevention and control practice of handwashing with soap and water.

Everyone can promote good handwashing behavior for health and wellbeing, and for infection prevention and control. Follow @wellbeingafrica #WASHWednesday for weekly tools and resources

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