Be kind to yourself… do yourself a favour, possibly save the life of a loved one (if not your own) and wash your hands of the many life-threatening dangers that lurk menacingly and prey on your health 24/7.
How? – I hear you ask.
Please… pay attention! I’ve just told you… wash your hands!
Countless people suffer unnecessarily in Bangladesh each year from diarrhoea, dysentery and other stomach ailments as a result of ignorance and improper hygiene practices.
We’ve all familiar with passive smoking and the alleged dangers of being exposed to it, but a plethora of horrifically greater dangers, unseen by the naked eye, lurks silently and menacingly in our everyday environment, incessantly threatening our health.
While we might be able to avoid inhaling cigarette smoke (a very mild pollutant in comparison to the horrific pollution spewed out by Dhaka’s and Chittagong’s nightmarish traffic), virtually invisible germs and harmful bacteria cannot be evaded and are considerably more hazardous to health.
Although a visitor to Bangladesh of 20-years, I have yet to eat food or drink tea from a street vendor in Bangladesh. If you are seeking to catalogue deplorable hygienic practices, you need look no further.
Hand hygiene is of vital importance for the overall well-being of society and washing our hands is one of the most important steps we can all take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.
To avoid infections and diseases, most politicians and celebrities (in Bangladesh and elsewhere) carry in their cars Savlon-soaked clothes that they use after shaking the hands of their public. (And it’s recommended that you wash your hands after shaking theirs!)
Washing our hands regularly with soap and clean running water (hot or cold doesn’t matter) can help stop the spread of germs and prevent illnesses like influenza, bronchitis, swine flu, diphtheria, measles, conjunctivitis, leprosy, chicken pox, meningitis, and scabies among many more, not to mention acne and other skin problems and diseases and has the potential to save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention and billions of dollars in medical expenses and medicines.
There are more than 3.5 million children under the age of five who die every year worldwide from diarrhoeal disease and pneumonia.
Many deaths are preventable and with scientists warning about the potential for new, more serious, flu strains and strange hybrid diseases, it is essential to promote the effective and deceptively simple skill of hand-washing.
Although many people clean their hands with water, medical science tell us that water on its own is insufficient to prevent diseases either in their contraction or spreading, and that soap MUST be used.
From time to time, the Government of Bangladesh launches national campaigns to promote good hygiene practices
I’m continually shocked, however, to find no soap or hygienic means to properly wash and dry hands in both public and private hospitals (including the famous Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Medical University & Hospital) – the very establishments that should be setting a good example. The message ‘do as we say, but don’t do as we do’ rings loud.
While ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’, in more ways than one, it also prevents spreading a host of diseases. If hospitals, diagnostic centers, doctor surgeries, and such like in Bangladesh, however, cannot set this simple example in hygiene, what does it say for them and the rest of their medical services? Why are so many Bangladeshis (including many top level politicians) leap-frogging over each other to get their required medical service in Singapore and Bangkok if the medical treatment is allegedly as good here? People take diseases to hospitals to be cured of them, not to procure more!
To convey the message of hygiene to the populace effectively, it would help enormously if hospitals, diagnostic centers, doctors’ surgeries and suchlike set the example in their own facilities, and not merely hang posters on their premises.
It’s time the standards of hygiene in Bangladesh were raised with every individual playing their part; preventable diseases prevented, and vile and disgusting bad habits like some have of picking their nose or spitting on the pavement are deemed unacceptable behaviour and severely frowned upon.
I’ve taken many car rides where drivers unconsciously pick their nose – oblivious to who’s watching – and grab the steering wheel, fiddle with the sound system, and transfer their nasal dirt and ailments.
Similarly, I’ve been in offices and banks where computer operators type with one hand and practice their nose-picking dexterity with the other as naturally as night is to day.
There can never be enough emphasis on good hygiene practices for everyone’s sake.
Hand washing itself is easy – child’s play. It requires little or no effort and is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of many types of infections and illness in the home, workplace, child-care facilities and hospitals.
While TV, magazine and newspaper adverts and posters are productive and play an essential and supporting role in conveying the vital messages and importance of hand hygiene to the masses, TV soap operas reign supreme, but in Bangladesh they are totally under-utilised.
People tune in to soap operas to see a reflection of their own mundane boring lives on the small screen in hope they will find escape from, or solutions to, the problems they themselves face. While a 30-second commercial has the power to help convince the viewer s/he should be using brand-X toothpaste, no doubt a 60-minute ‘real-life’ soap opera has the power to influence the thinking of the entire family.
To harness this enormous subliminal power effectively, it is essential TV scriptwriters’ play an active, patriotic role and are encouraged by the government to write scenes into their dramas that promote good hygiene practices (and address other important society-benefitting issues) for the good of the nation.
While the acting in soap operas can leave a lot to be desired, their one redeeming value could be to protect the health of their viewers by promoting the proper and beneficial use of soap.
(Sir Frank Peters is a former newspaper publisher and editor, an award winning writer, a humanitarian, a Goodwill Ambassador and Senior Advisor to European and Saudi Royalty, and a caring foreign friend of Bangladesh.)