SIR FRANK PETERS ::
Washing our hands regularly with soap and clean running water can help stop the spread of germs and prevent many illnesses
This is not a subject-matter I would normally write about, but it is one that needs to be brought into the open and addressed for the benefit and well-being of all people in Bangladesh.
I’m assured, if acted upon, it will save lives – there is no greater reward for any writer. However, even if it only lessens the number of ‘Dhaka Dash’ (diarrhea) cases too frequently reported in this country, that will be ample reward.
While most of us agree that ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ and proper hygienic practices are essential to the wellbeing of not only ourselves but that of others; some of the hospitals, medical centres and even doctors’ surgeries in Bangladesh appear to agree only in principle.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, Badda General Hospital, Dhaka Medical Hospital, LabAid in Gulshan, Popular Diagnostic Centre in Dhanmondi all of these popular medical establishments et al that I have visited over the years have one thing in common: there is no soap to be found in their washrooms.
And you dare not dry your hands on the filthy towels (if any) in fear of awakening and annoying the highly-dense population of disease-carrying bacteria that inhabits them.
People take diseases to hospitals to be cured of them, not to adopt more and take them home!
Appallingly, the very establishments that ought to be teaching good and proper hygiene practices by example do the exact opposite.
If hospitals, diagnostic centres, doctor surgeries, and such cannot set this simple example in hygiene, what does it say for them? What does it say for all the other medical services they provide? Perhaps that is one of the reasons why Bangladeshi politicians, and people with money, are continuously leap-frogging over each other to get their required medical service in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
If you visit any hospital or medical centre in Bangladesh for any reason, go prepared by taking your own soap and tissues or a cloth to dry your hands, as a precaution.
Giving credit where it’s due, Apollo, United and Karamtola Christian Hospital all deserve a pat on the back for their hygiene practices and their washrooms are void of the all-too-common putrid ‘knock-me-over’ smells.
The washrooms at most government offices leave a lot to be desired. They all show appalling disregard for hygiene and for the people who use their facilities. In their defense they say staff and people who use the washrooms steal the soap, but even if they do, that’s still a weak excuse.
The loss of a few takas bar of soap is much cheaper than the employee taking a day, a week (or longer) off from work through illness or spreading a disease like wildfire among his/her colleagues resulting in incalculable work hours lost.
Countless people suffer unnecessarily in Bangladesh from diarrhoea, dysentery and other stomach ailments as a result of ignorance and improper hygiene practices. And if hospitals and suchlike are not setting a good example, what can you expect from Greasy Joe’s fly-infested food stall (usually next to an open sewage) in Dhaka’s side streets?
It’s time for Bangladesh to stop the rot in bad hygiene practices before the rot stops us.
A plethora of dangers to our health, unseen by the naked eye, lurks silently and menacingly in our everyday environment, continuously threatening our health.
It is common knowledge that hand hygiene is of vital importance for the overall wellbeing of society and washing our hands is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.
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 and scabies among many more, not to mention acne and other skin problems and diseases.
Hand washing requires no effort and is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of many types of infections and illnesses. It 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 from diarrhoeal disease and pneumonia – and many are preventable.
Although most people clean their hands with water, medical science tells us that is not enough and the use of soap is essential. A recent study by Michigan State University claims most people wash their hands for only six-seconds whereas 20-seconds is recommended.
To convey the message of hygiene to the populace effectively, it would help ENORMOUSLY if hospitals, diagnostic centres, doctors’ surgeries and such like set the example in their own facilities.
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 picking one’s nose in public or spitting on the pavement are frowned upon and deemed unacceptable behaviour.
There can never be enough emphasis on good hygiene practices such as washing your hands regularly with soap and running water, cleaning all utensils before cooking and keeping cooking places clean to prevent communicable diseases.
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.
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 that TV scriptwriters play an active patriotic role and are encouraged (if not forced) by the government (as part of their transmission agreement) to write scenes into their dramas that promote good hygiene practices (and other important society-benefiting issues) that benefit and profit the nation (or cancel their licences).
While the entertainment value of soap operas themselves might be questionable, they can at least serve and help protect the health of their viewers by promoting the proper and beneficial use of soap. After all they are SOAP operas!
If the adage ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ is true; then ‘God helps those who help themselves’ is its partner. And the washing of hands properly is as good a place as any to begin.
The writer is a former newspaper publisher and editor, an award winning writer, a humanitarian, human rights advocate, and a long time caring friend of Bangladesh.