Hand hygiene; how the practice keeps diseases at bay

It’s essential for everyone to adopt the culture of washing their hands often, to keep pathogens and other microorganisms at bay. However, health practitioners say what is more important is knowing how to do it and not just washing the hands for the sake of it.

The Ministry of Health has promoted hand washing through a programme known as Community Based Environment Health Promotion Programme (CBEHPP).

The programme is meant to be one of the strategies to curb communicable diseases that are a burden and a public health threat to the country.

It’s enforced in the establishment of a hygiene club at the village level, composed of 50 to 100 households, who meet weekly to discuss health issues, including hand washing hygiene.

According to organisers, the programme is implemented by Gikuriro Wash Program under the guidelines of the Ministry of Health in partnership with Nyarugenge District.

Hand washing practice is sensitised during sessions of CBEHPP at village level and this is one of the channels where awareness on hand hygiene is greatly communicated and demonstrated to the community.


Lucie Uwinkesha, the in-charge of community and environment health at Muhima Health Centre, says hand washing, also known as hand hygiene, is the act of cleaning the hands for the purpose of removing dirt or microorganisms. In the medical field, she says it refers to hand washing hygienic practices.

She says that the public needs to know the importance of washing hands, and that no one should be left behind when it comes to this.

Francis Kazungu, a general practitioner in Kigali, says people tend to think that washing hands is something simple and doesn’t require any lessons to learn how to do it.

He says this is wrong because this is where the problem starts; when people are educated on this, there will be reduction of diseases that come with poor hand washing hygiene.

Uwinkesha says it’s recommended in the medical field to wash hands before providing any healthcare service needed by a patient.

For instance, she says, this should happen before a healthcare professional administers drugs to patients or an injection.

The importance of this, Uwinkesha says, is to limit, prevent and at the same time, remove the microorganisms that sometimes stick on our hands.

“The medical purpose is to cleanse the hands from the pathogens like bacteria and virus among others. If the health provider doesn’t practice hand washing always, it’s easier to transmit these microorganisms to the patient they are attending to,” she says.

When it comes to the public, Kazungu says this technique is very important and it’s always encouraged when handling food and other practices that call for cleanliness.

The aim of all this, he says, is to make sure our hands are germ free and avoid health-related complications.


Uwinkesha says hand washing has an outcome of disease reduction, especially when it comes to faecal oral diseases.

She says that these are all the diseases that can be transmitted through the digestive tract; here, one can acquire such diseases by either eating or swallowing food which has direct connection with the digestive tract.

There are also some kind of diseases that are brought about by viruses, all of which are caused by poor hand hygiene.

She says these include common cold, whereby if one sneezes or coughs and doesn’t wash their hands, it’s easier to transmit it to another person, and this could be through hand shaking or even sharing meals.

Other examples of diseases caused by viruses include influenza, hepatitis A, diarrheal disease, cholera, and Ebola, among others.


Rachna Pande, a specialist in internal medicine, says it’s important to know that handwashing does not just involve washing hands with plain water as that will not keep one away from diseases. There should be soap always and if possible, running water.

Uwinkesha explains that the reason behind running water is that there are some people use basins to wash their hands and in most cases, they are not cleaned well, leaving one with pathogens in their hands.

But when it comes to running water, it’s easier and all the germs are washed away with this water.

For people who don’t have taps in their homes, especially those in rural areas, she says they normally advise them to always practice hand washing with someone else to assist.

This means that one person can help the other by pouring the water for them using a jug, or something that can put water in running motion.


Joseph Mucumbitsi, a paediatrician at Oshen-King Faisal Hospital in Kigali, says the importance of cleaning our hands is to minimise the spread of disease, and also prevent respiratory diseases, such as pneumonia.

At the same time, he says, the benefits are also to reduce mortality rate.

He explains that this is because children under the age of five are more vulnerable when it comes to these diseases, and they are more likely to be affected than adults.

He says the reason is that their immune system is always weak, making it easier to be attacked by such pathogens. When effective cleanness is not practiced, when affected with such diseases and they do not get the right treatment, it can lead to complications, even death.


Uwinkesha says they put emphasis on these critical times when it comes to washing the hands.

She says people have to know that it’s healthy to wash hands before eating, before feeding the baby, preparing food, after using the toilet and also after cleaning or touching baby’s faeces.

She notes that there is a perception where mothers think that baby’s faeces are harmless and don’t contain germs, and in most cases, they don’t bother washing their hands after this activity. She says this should change because it can lead to transmission of diseases.

Washing hands, experts say, has techniques and people should be aware of them. For instance, Uwinkesha says, one shouldn’t just go to the tap and immediately get soap and start applying it to their hands.

In a proper way, she says, after using the toilet, one has to first wet their hands using clean water; after a few seconds, they can proceed to wash the hands using running water.

“There are some areas where one has to be keen. For instance, germ hiding places include in-between the fingers and inside the nails. It’s important to scrub well in those areas and also remove the dirt from the nails,” she says.

In fact, Uwinkesha says when it comes to health practitioners, it’s not permitted to keep long nails.

Experts say if all is put into consideration, there could be significant reduction of many diseases.



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