Hand washing habits must continue

Md Tajul Islam, Mesbah Uddin Chowdhury, Zaid Jurji, Md Jasim Uddin

It has now become a challenge to keep up the habit of washing hands which had developed during the coronavirus outbreak. With the decline in the spread of coronavirus, this habit had also declined. Alongside the government, non-government organisations must also come forward to spread the message of hand washing among the people.

Concerned persons raised these issues yesterday, Thursday, at a daylong national conference on hand washing held at Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel in the city. The conference was jointly organised by the local government division, UNICEF and WaterAid Bangladesh. At the conference, the organisers presented a strategy paper on ‘Hand Hygiene for All’.

If the people from all walks of life are to be motivated to wash their hands, the price of soap and other cleansing products must be kept within their reach, observed speakers at the conference.

Speaking as chief guest at the event, minister for local government, rural development and cooperatives, Md Tajul Islam, said that the global community is taking the matter of hand washing seriously. If hands are not kept clean, we will be unable to protect ourselves against many diseases. All must work together to mobilise public awareness on the matter.

One of the main targets of the government is to ensure hand hygiene for all by 2030. This conference arranged to take this goal ahead was presided over by the secretary of the local government division, Mohammad Mesbah Uddin Chowdhury. He said, the habit of washing hands became a part of the country’s culture during the coronavirus outbreak. This habit must continue.

Pointing out that the price of soap and similar cleansing products had increased over the past two years, chief engineer of the Department of Public Health Engineering, Md. Saifur Rahman, said it will be possible for the people to buy these products and wash their hands if prices are kept within reach.

FBCCI (Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry) president Md. Jasim Uddin said that the business community can organise hand washing campaigns as part of their corporate social responsibility.

He also said that this requires a social movement. Government and private organisations can work together in this regard.

Hand washing cannot be conceived without basins, water and soap. Calling for government investment in this sector, UNICEF’s acting country representative Zaid Jurji said if students have the habit of washing their hands, there is less disease and they can spend more time in studying. And adults fall ill as they do not wash their hands properly. This puts financial pressure on them. Government investment in this sector will be beneficial for all.

Additional secretary of the local government division’s water supply cell, Md. Khairul Islam, said that there are water supply facilities for 98 per cent of the people in the country and a road map has been drawn up regarding hand washing. He spoke of implementing the plan with all concerned.

The local government division’s policy support unit’s joint secretary Md. Kamal Hossain, presenting the keynote, said if the deprived can be identified, then hand hygiene for all can be ensured. The programmes in place for hand washing must continue. The required fund allocations must be made. And political will is essential to implement this objective.

In the second part of this daylong event, views were exchanged on the challenges and means of taking hand hygiene products to the remote areas.

During the question and answer session, a certain Anwar Hossain from Jhalkathi said that the soap which had cost 35 taka before Covid, now cost 55 taka. If the price of the products is not reduced, how can we wash our hands?

Responding to the question, director of Unilever’s corporate affairs and communications, Shamima Akhter, said, around 90 per cent of the materials used for hand washing products are imported. With the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war, the prices of imported products have gone up and so the prices of the commodities went up too.

Head of operations of RFL Plastic Ltd’s Shine Sanitary Ware and Fittings and Platinum Sanitary Ware and Fittings, Abdullah-Al-Junaid, said we are presently struggling with the power crisis, the high price of the dollar and inflation. That is why despite all efforts, prices are increasing.

Unless facilities are created and soap is provided, hand washing will not become a culture, said WaterAid country director Hasin Jahan, adding that there is no problem with businessmen doing their business. However, he said, bring soaps to the market that are affordable to the poor.

In his closing speech, local government division’s development cell joint secretary Numeri Zaman said people’s behaviour cannot be changed forcibly. They can develop the hand washing habit if they are given the relevant information.

He further said that this will not be possible without involving the education ministry in the matter. The government and the non-government organisations can play an important role in this regard, he added.

The exchange of views session was moderated by media personality Rukhsana Anjuman.