FAQ Handwashing and COVID-19

Handwashing and COVID-19

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Get resources and information about how to wash your hands effectively, and what we're doing to help people in the communities where we work stay safe.

Get resources and information about how to wash your hands effectively, and what we're doing to help people in the communities where we work stay safe.

Which method of hand washing removes the most bacteria?

Washing both hands with soap and water thoroughly and frequently is the most effective way to remove bacteria.

Rub both hands together vigorously using soap and water until a soapy lather appears. Continue for at least 20 seconds - as long as it takes to sing happy birthday twice.

Make sure you cover:

  • Palm to palm
  • The back of your hands
  • In between your fingers
  • The back of your fingers
  • Your thumbs
  • The tips of your fingers

 

What diseases could be prevented if we wash our hands properly?

Handwashing with soap can of course prevent the spread of diseases like COVID-19, slow down the spread of Ebola and can reduce the likelihood of contracting blinding trachoma. It can also help prevent life-threatening illnesses such as diarrhoeal diseases, cholera, pneumonia and intestinal worms.

These illnesses are very common in the countries where we work, amongst communities without decent toilets and clean water. For people who have no choice but to go to the toilet in the open, or drink water from unprotected and unsafe sources, bacteria can easily spread.

Diarrhoea caused by dirty water and poor toilets kills a child under 5 every 2 minutes. That's why it's so important that everyone, everywhere has all three basics: clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene.

Is there any difference in washing hands with cold water and hot water?

There's no evidence that washing your hands with cold or hot water makes a difference to killing bacteria. The important thing is to use soap, whatever the temperature of the water.

Can you wash your hands with just alcohol?

No. You should wash your hands with soap and water. If water and soap aren't available, use an alcohol based hand-rub.

Can washing your hands too much be dangerous?

No. Even after you've washed your hands, you can pick up new bacteria and germs and re-contaminate your hands - so it's really important to keep on washing your hands with soap and water throughout the day. Handwashing is only a good thing.

Should you wash your hands after blowing your nose?

When you sneeze or cough you release droplets into the air or onto your hands, which is one of the ways viruses spread.

Always wash your hands after sneezing or coughing, to remove any droplets that may have landed on them.

Should we wash our hands after using hand sanitiser?

You should only use hand sanitiser if water and soap aren't available, like when you're travelling or outside. If you do use it, you only need to wash your hands again if you think you have exposed yourself to more germs, for example, by touching a surface.

What does WaterAid’s work have to do with viruses?

WaterAid works across three key areas- water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)

As WASH experts, WaterAid promotes core behaviours, such as handwashing with soap and water, as it can support and protect the health of families and communities.

Frequent handwashing with soap and water is one of the key components of controlling the spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

WASH is the core of the work we do here at WaterAid, and we have been calling for urgent action for many years on bringing clean water and hygiene to everyone, everywhere.

Why is hygiene education and hand washing so important?

Handwashing is one of the simplest and most effective disease prevention methods available. It’s been shown to reduce the incidence of acute respiratory infection by 16-23%, reduce pneumonia by up to 50% and up result in up to 48% reduction in the risk of endemic diarrhea.

With the need for handwashing as urgent as ever, we need to amplify the action that WaterAid has long been advocating for; safe water and good hygiene for all. What's needed is not just infrastructure alone, it’s ensuring good quality water, sanitation and hygiene service delivery and behaviour change to create strong health systems and strong communities.

How will COVID impact the communities that WaterAid works in?

Close to 800 million people do not have access to clean water and a staggering two billion people lack access to a water service that is free from contamination. Two in five households globally lack handwashing facilities with soap and water.

If everyone, everywhere had access to soap and water and good hygiene information, they would be well placed to wash hands and better protect themselves and their families against disease, including the current pandemic. Almost half of healthcare facilities in low income countries do not have piped water on site, making handwashing difficult and compromising the delivery of safe, clean care

Preventing the spread of COVID-19 requires strong and urgent action from all individuals, communities, organisations and governments. We must look out for the most vulnerable.

Is WaterAid’s work changing as a result of COVID-19?

A key component of WaterAid’s work has always been hygiene education.This work is as critical now, as it always has been but given the emergency we are responding by increasing our work where ever possible globally to contribute to the prevention of the spread of Covid 19.

In Cambodia and Timor-Leste, WaterAid Australia operates WASH programs, the data shows that only 61% of people in Cambodia have access to handwashing facilities with both soap and water, and 29% of the population has no access to any type of handwashing facilities. In Timor-Leste, only 28% of the population has access to handwashing facilities with both soap and water.

What is WaterAid doing to help reduce the spread of COVID-19?

We're urgently increasing our support to help people in the communities where we work to stay safer and reduce the spread of COVID-19:

  • We are providing education to locals about low- cost solutions for handwashing infrastructure, such as tippy taps
  • We are providing information on how to make soap from locally, available materials, to enable handwashing with soap and water.
  • WaterAid is conducting direct community outreach. WaterAid staff have been visiting rural communities to spread World Health Organisation and National Department of Health awareness messaging to prepare locals for COVID-19.
  • WaterAid is creating COVID-19 specific responses by providing national communications, information, , materials and training on water, sanitation and hygiene to frontline health workers and health posts in rural areas.
What measures are WaterAid taking to protect staff?

WaterAid’s priority is the well-being, safety and security of our staff, partners and those in the communities in which we work. Given the declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, we are continually assessing what this means for our work, the ventures we support and the wider communities those ventures work within. In light of this, we have developed an internal policy on how to best mitigate the risks associated with this outbreak and have made a number of amendments to our current work practices to enable staff in Australia and our country programs to work from home. These measures are preventative in nature and what we believe is the best way to support the wellbeing of those associated with WaterAid 

Fast facts on handwashing:
  • Only 1 in 5 (19%) people globally wash their hands with soap after using the toilet. 
  • 1 in 3 primary schools worldwide does not have handwashing facilities. 
  • Around 310,000 children die each year from diarrheal diseases caused by dirty water and poor sanitation. That’s over 800 children each day, or one child every two minutes. 
  • 443 million school days are lost every year because of water-related illnesses. 
  • Handwashing with soap reduces the risk of diarrheal diseases by up to 47%. 
  • Lack of access to sanitation and poor hygiene contribute to approximately 88% of childhood deaths caused by diarrheal diseases. 
in mali washing hands

What is WaterAid doing to help reduce the spread of COVID-19?

We're urgently increasing our support to help people in the communities where we work to stay safer and reduce the spread of COVID-19:

  • We are providing education to locals about low- cost solutions for handwashing infrastructure, such as tippy taps
  • We are providing information on how to make soap from locally, available materials, to enable handwashing with soap and water.
  • WaterAid is conducting direct community outreach. WaterAid staff have been visiting rural communities to spread World Health Organisation and National Department of Health awareness messaging to prepare locals for COVID-19.
  • WaterAid is creating COVID-19 specific responses by providing national communications, information, , materials and training on water, sanitation and hygiene to frontline health workers and health posts in rural areas.

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