The measures announced so far by the Ministry of Health (MoH) in its comprehensive and coordinated response to the public health threat posed by the Covid 19 disease have been well received by most Kenyans. To be sure though, there are also a large number of people who have not appreciated the gravity of the danger posed by the coronavirus, hence the need to reinforce the need for taking recommended protective actions by this group of people.
Many have felt that there was a refreshing change in the clarity of information about what we all need to do to avoid getting infected by the virus, while also ensuring we all know what we can do to protect our loved ones and those around us. The message has been simple and straightforward. We have the power to stop the virus in its tracks and that power is in our hands.
Clean hands protect you from catching diseases from people and things that have been contaminated and it prevents the spread of infection. For this reason, the first thing that surgeons must do before they enter the operating theatre is to wash hands. They are so careful that they open taps using their elbows and ensure that nothing gets into contact with their hands above the elbow before they enter the theatre.
Since there is no vaccine for Covid 19 yet, washing hands with soap is the most powerful line of defence available to us to protect ourselves against infection by the virus. There is distinct difference between washing hands with water alone and washing hands with soap. Soap contains substances known as surfactants which lift germs from the skin. At the same time, people tend to scrub their hands more thoroughly when they use soap hence ensuring that all germs get washed away.
Going by what the Health Cabinet Secretary, Mutahi Kagwe and his team at the Ministry have been emphasizing that we must take charge to ensure that we and those we love, do not get infected. This we can do by properly washing hands with soap as frequently as possible. When we go outdoors, we should use alcohol-based sanitisers after touching surfaces that may likely be contaminated with the virus. We must not have meals before washing our hands or eat fruits that we have not washed ourselves.
Hands should be washed for at least 20 seconds. This is the time it takes to sing that Happy Birthday song twice. The other crucial precaution, which is in everybody’s control is to refrain from touching the face, particularly eyes, mouth and nose, especially when one may have touched infected surfaces. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), these are the routes through which the coronavirus gets transmitted. “Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body and can make you sick,” notes a WHO online public advisory.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cautions that people should stay at least six feet away from those who are coughing and sneezing, and clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces in household common areas, from sinks to light switches to tables. A study by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases released on 11th March 2020 showed that the coronavirus can live in the air for several hours and on some surfaces for as long as three days.
Washing hands along with other measures that have been recommended such as going to hospital for testing in case one experiences symptoms will ensure that only those cases that are serious will need to be handled by health facilities. Besides taking these measures ourselves, we should readily share this information with our family members, work colleagues and those within our neighbourhoods.
Fortunately, and as confirmed by the MoH, the government is committed to ensuring that it will ensure that all of us will have access to what we need to maintain hygiene. It has required establishments that host large numbers of people such as schools, places of worship, hotels and hospitals to ensure that hand sanitisers are placed in strategic places and that those going there must sanitise their hands. By all of us playing our part, we shall slow the speed with which the coronavirus might spread, let hospitals and other health service institutions and personnel deal only with severe cases and take charge of our own protection from the Covid 19 disease. Fortunately, we all have access to the strongest weapon against corona virus and that weapon is soap.
The writer is a globally recognised expert in handwashing with soap, currently a Senior Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School, Mossavar-Rahmani Centre for Business and Government. She is a co-founder and co-Chair of National Business Compact on Covid-19.