Poorly sanitised salons are health hazards in Rwanda

We hear about it almost everyday in some way or another, but how much do we really know about HIV/AIDS in our own backyard? Millions continue to die and live with HIV/AIDS, and unfortunately few are indeed aware of the causes of the infection.

We hear about it almost everyday in some way or another, but how much do we really know about HIV/AIDS in our own backyard? Millions continue to die and live with HIV/AIDS, and unfortunately few are indeed aware of the causes of the infection.

And yet, the only way to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS is to know the difference, understand how it is spread, and inform others about the importance of getting tested. But are our salons professionals aware of the causes of the spread? They are certainly not.

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. You cannot get AIDS without first having the HIV virus. Beauty professionals and salon operators should understand that HIV is not a virus you catch only from sexual relations with an infected person. Furthermore, while there is currently no cure for HIV, it can be prevented by education, acknowledging its existence and changes in behaviour.

When you sit down to have your fingernails done or your hair cut, you’re probably more worried about catching the potentially deadly disease (HIV/AIDS). There is no doubt that Nail and hair salons may be a source of blood-borne diseases like HIV/AIDS.

A client in a salon may have an injury to the cuticles, a cut in the nail folds, or could have bled when calluses were removed too deeply. A hair cutter could have accidentally nicked a client. Customers might have open areas or cracks in their scalps. Crusts and scales can attach to combs and brushes and easily transmit infection or infestation to the next unwitting patron.

The invisible blood stains can easily transmit HIV/AIDS. Generally, Infection can occur during hairdressing procedures. Items such as razors, scissors, combs, clippers and hairpins can accidentally penetrate the skin. Blood and body fluids do not have to be visible on instruments, equipment or working surfaces for infection to be transmitted. Both clients and operators are at risk.
The risk of transmitting a serious disease such as HIV is high in our salons where there no practical precautions. The routine cleaning of razor blades is not adequate to minimise the risk of transmission of the blood-borne disease. The safest and most efficient way of preventing the spread of these disease, is to use single-use items.

Unfortunately our salons do the opposite. Over the years, many types of disinfecting solutions have been used in the hairdressing industry. The use of disinfectants requires operators to apply these solutions in strict accordance with the manufacturer’s directions; a thing, salons do not conform to.

A Layman in a salon

A layman does not know what precautions to take when he/she is visiting a salon. He/she sits and waits for an ‘expert’ to come and work on him/her. Skin-hair cut has for a couple of years ago, been a style in most east- African countries.

This kind of hair cut exposes people to the danger of getting infected as there is an inevitable high chance of cutting one’s cells. What our salon experts do, is to wash the blades with ‘highly diluted disinfectants’ that cannot even be felt on the skin.

This has been a long standing issue, which no medical professional has come out strongly to examine and tell the public how unsafe it is to attend most of our salons. And in fact almost all salons we have in the region, do not meet the required health standards set and yet they are in full operation ‘serving’ the people. They only have licences that are not based on sanitary requirements.

Health experts however suggest that; a salon must be licensed, have licensed technicians, etc. "But most states allow chemical sterilizing as long as the implements are immersed in the solution for at least 10 minutes between customers. Ask the technician what the salon’s practices are. If they’re using a chemical solution, check the product’s label for words like "germicidal" to indicate that it is strong enough to kill bacteria", says Ralph Daniel, a dermatologist.

Unfortunately People seem to continue spreading and catching HIV/AIDS because of ignorance. Otherwise how do you wait to have your skin hair cut after a vividly HIV/AIDS positive person? Why do we have to keep people at risk of catching the disease? Can’t people be given an alternative so that they do not keep in ‘salon-mind slavery?’

It seems that the region’s population is heavily obsessed by use of salons. All young men and women are therefore, at risk of catching the disease (HIV/AIDS) in a way, since very few have access to well-equipped salons in terms of sanitation.

James Niyonshuti, a secondary school teacher was very furious when he saw his students lining to have their hair cut, one after another in a very poorly sanitized salon. He observed thus:

"You know sometimes people’s understanding beats my logic. You can see all those students are lining up to have their hair cut with a single man and a single instrument. Yet, some of them are special students well known and catered for because they are HIV positive. They are now going to spread the virus to all those hundreds of other students who are HIV negative. I have complained to the school administration and no body listens to me. Unfortunately, I have come to realise that it is the same case with other schools. I have thus resigned as even parents do not seem to care or are just ignorant, lamented James.

This kind of ignorance as explained by James is not acceptable and the whole society should stand the blame. There is a great need to help people who are at risk of catching HIV/AIDS in salons. The risks would be virtually eliminated if operators used disposable instruments, wore rubber gloves, employed proper hand washing, and used appropriate sterilization techniques. The government should thus give the problem the attention it deserves and impose strong restrictions on salons operators. They should strictly follow standard sanitary requirements or quit the business. This is between life and death issue and therefore not debatable. It thus calls for a do it or leave it command from the ministry of health and government. If restaurants and hotels are closed for the sake of saving people from food poisoning and other contaminations, why can’t we have salons closed for the sake of saving people from getting infected with HIV/AIDS?

Meanwhile, to really be safe, one would be required to bring his or her own instruments whenever he or she attends salons. But the fact that very few can afford to buy themselves instruments, renders the alternative impractical.



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