March 19: Handwashing with soap, when done correctly, is critical in the fight against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), according to UNICEF. But millions of people have no ready access to a place to wash their hands, UNICEF said in a recent statement.
In total, only 3 out of 5people worldwide have basic handwashing facilities, according to the latest data. In Nepal, more than half of the population does not have access to handwashing with soap and water at households.
As the pandemic continues its spread, UNICEF has been reminding the public of the importance of handwashing as a key preventive measure against COVID-19. The UN body has been urging renewed efforts to provide access to this most basic of public health interventions around the world.
“Handwashing with soap is one of the cheapest, most effective things you can do to protect yourself and others against coronavirus, as well as many other infectious diseases. Yet for billions, even this most basic of steps is simply out of reach,” the statement quoted Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF Directorof Programmes as saying.“It is far from a magic bullet. But it is important to make sure people know what steps they should take to keep themselves and their families safe, even as we continue our longstanding efforts to make basic hygiene and sanitation available to everyone,” he added.
According to UNICEF, 40 per cent of the world’s population, or 3 billion people, do not have a handwashing facility with water and soap at home. Nearly three quarters of the people in least developed countries lack basic handwashing facilities at home.
In Nepal, 54 per cent health care facilities have no access to handwashing facilities at point of care, the statement added. Availability of disinfectant at outpatient departments of health care facilities is only 59 per cent while availability of water in delivery rooms at health care facilities is 69 per cent.
According to UNICEF, the urban populations are particularly at risk of viral respiratory infections due to population density and more frequent public gatherings in crowded spaces like markets, public transport or places of worship. People living in urban poor slums – the worst form of informal settlement – are particularly at risk. As a result, handwashing becomes even more important.
“In Nepal, 33 per cent of urban population or around 3 in 10 people do not have access to handwashing with soap and water.”
As the coronavirus response takes its toll on the health services in the affected countries, the practice of handwashing with soap is even more important in warding off common respiratory and diarrhoeal diseases, UNICEF concluded.