October 15 is Global Handwashing Day, a global advocacy day dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding about the importance of handwashing with soap as an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives.
Handwashing has been a central component of personal hygiene and a religious and cultural custom for many years. However, the link between handwashing and health was first made less than two centuries ago.
Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor working in Vienna General Hospital, is known as the father of hand hygiene. In 1846, he noticed that the women giving birth in the medical student/doctor-run maternity ward in his hospital were much more likely to develop a fever and die compared to the women giving birth in the adjacent midwife-run maternity ward. He decided to investigate, seeking differences between the two wards. He noticed that doctors and medical students often visited the maternity ward directly after performing an autopsy. Based on this observation, he developed a theory that those performing autopsies got ‘cadaverous particles’ on their hands, which they then carried from the autopsy room into the maternity ward. Midwives did not conduct surgery or autopsies, so they were not exposed to these particles.
As a result, Semmelweis imposed a new rule mandating handwashing with chlorine for doctors. The rates of death in his maternity ward fell dramatically. This was the first proof that cleansing hands could prevent infection.
A few years later in Scutari, Italy, the Crimean War brought about a new handwashing champion, Florence Nightingale. At a time when most people believed that infections were caused by foul odors called miasmas, Florence Nightingale implemented handwashing and other hygiene practices in the war hospital in which she worked. While the target of these practices was to fight the miasmas, Nightingale’s handwashing practices achieved a reduction in infections.
What does this mean to me? The obvious thing would be to promote and sell hand soap. You have a week to get it going.