Conference looks at hand hygiene from new angles

16th of April 2014
Conference looks at hand hygiene from new angles

The implications of poor hand hygiene on a local, global and national scale were considered at a recent conference held in London.

More than 60 delegates from cleaning and hygiene companies, hospital trusts, local authorities and retail giants attended the event which was hosted by the Royal Society for Public Health.

The conference took the theme: 'The science and behaviour behind hand washing at home, work and on the move' and speakers included public health consultants, behaviour change experts and lecturers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Topics under discussion included the importance of hand washing with soap in developing countries and why some healthcare and catering workers are still neglecting their hand hygiene.

The conference also focused on the dangers of conditions such as diarrhoea and respiratory illnesses. The hands play a key role in spreading such conditions according to independent health and safety consultant Dr Lisa Ackerley.

"Diarrhoea causes four per cent of deaths worldwide and kills 2.2 million people globally, most of them aged under five years," she said. "Respiratory illnesses such as flu affect between three and five million of us worldwide every year, resulting in between a quarter and a half a million deaths."

Dr Valerie Curtis, a reader in hygiene at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the conference that hand washing with soap was the most effective way of reducing the risks of diseases spread via the fecal-oral route in developing countries.

"International attention is not focused on diarrhoea or hand hygiene - it is focused on water treatment," she said. "But hand washing with soap could save 650,000 lives a year globally. It could help prevent SARS, AIDS, cholera, pandemic flu and malnutrition."

According to Curtis, diarrhoea kills more children than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. "However, people don't like to talk about it so there is no funding."

The event was sponsored by Lifebuoy and Deb and Anita Gopal, global social mission manager of Unilever's Lifebuoy brand, also addressed the conference. Lifebuoy has made it a mission to save lives by changing the hygiene behaviour of one billion people by 2015.



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