WASH Your Hands in the Time of COVID-19

March 16th, 2020

I know we have all been overwhelmed by the news and the latest developments, both globally and locally. I have been veering from one press briefing to another; from late-night updates tweeted by Minister of Health and Wellness Christopher Tufton, to alarming global news on the virus. Europe seems to be the new epicenter. I have also written four articles for Global Voices on the Jamaican and Caribbean response. You can read GV’s extensive COVID-19 coverage here.

Of course, there are many lessons to be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic on our island. These are related to issues that have already been plaguing us for some time, without any resolution. A number of them are resurfacing, with added meaning and piquancy, as we tackle the virus on all fronts.

For example: why don’t we keep our public spaces cleaner? It was refreshing to see Kingston’s markets and the buses being scrubbed and sanitized. I wish it could happen more often. Why can’t we scrub them more often than we do – not superficially, but thoroughly? We need to pay much more attention to public and personal hygiene, that’s for sure. Perhaps hand sanitizers can become a regular fixture in our supermarkets.

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There is another issue that crops up continuously: water. As the Ministry of Health and Wellness urges us to wash our hands, with detailed descriptions on how to do so, what happens to those in both urban and rural areas who simply have no water? Hand sanitizers have for now become something of a rarity. But you cannot keep your hands clean without water.

Water, water, water. Well, now that we have this public health crisis, the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development, headed by Desmond McKenzie, and Minister Without Portfolio Daryl Vaz have been put in charge of trucking water to communities where they are simply unable to wash their hands. Late last year, Minister McKenzie said that new water trucks were expected to come in the 2020/21 financial year. I don’t think they have arrived yet; meanwhile, callers to radio talk shows are pleading for water – mostly from communities which have been waterless for months beforehand, anyway. Now the need is more acute.

My first comments about public hygiene and the need for water reminds me of some conversations I was having some three years ago with social activist and motivational speaker Damien Williams (author of Grab You Some Lemons). He just reminded me of the critical importance of WASH: a great acronym for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. It’s all connected, and I think it’s time to restart that conversation, now in the Time of COVID-19.

WASH is a critical public health issue – especially in low-income, informal settlements like Naggo Head in St. Catherine. I visited this community with Damien, who was helping to implement JamHabitat’s BRACED II project on the ground. BRACED II was about resilience, and also about self-help and planning – with the continuous input of the residents. I was deeply impressed by their commitment.

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By the way, WASH is in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goal number 6: Clean Water and Sanitation for All. I found this statistic quite alarming, and I will try to find out what the percentage is for Jamaica. Would it be below fifty percent?

In 2017, some 60 per cent of people worldwide and only 38 per cent in least developed countries had a basic handwashing facility with soap and water at home, leaving an estimated 3 billion people without basic handwashing facilities at home.

UNICEF has some interesting comments on WASH, which I invite you to take a look at here. Among other things, UNICEF focuses on “nurturing good hygiene practices, especially hand washing with soap, for children living in vulnerable communities. The three aspects of WASH are closely linked – and both Sanitation and Hygiene depend on Water. Let’s start looking at it again more seriously, through the lens of public health.

Hand washing with soap! That sounds familiar.

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2 Responses to “WASH Your Hands in the Time of COVID-19”

  1. Antonnette L Thomas says:

    I am happy to see the pictures with hand-washing instructions — they include proper drying and turning off the pipe without picking germs back up from the tap. Most hand-washing instructions that I have been seeing don’t mention drying and don’t mention preventing picking up germs from the tap after washing. Wet hands pick up germs many times faster than dry.

  2. EmmaLewis says:

    Yes! We have to be careful about every step we take when washing our hands and just general house-cleaning. I must say I really think about all these little details now – which is probably a good thing…

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