More than 200,000 students across Bhutan participate in mass handwashing event

With October 15 a national holiday, the MoE, MoH and the monastic body decided to observe the day on October 14

In what could be the biggest handwashing event, about 200,000 children including students, monks and nuns and teachers washed their hands with soap at the same time across the country on October 14 to mark the Global Handwashing Day.

Reinforcing the benefits of washing hands with soap, at 10am on Thursday, the mass handwashing exercise, engaged 168,324 students in all 605 schools, about 13,373 monks and nuns in 250 monastic schools and nunneries and visitors to all 288 health care facilities across the country. On average, the health care facilities together see 9,498 cases a day.

Celebrated every October 15, Global Handwashing Day is an annual global advocacy day dedicated to promoting handwashing with soap as an easy, effective, and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives. With October 15 a national holiday, the Ministry of Education (MoE), Ministry of Health (MoH) and the monastic body decided to observe the day on October 14.

This year’s theme, “Our Future is at Hand – Let’s Move Forward Together,” calls on all of society to take collective action to work towards universal hand hygiene. The unprecedented time provides a unique impetus to institutionalize hand hygiene as a fundamental component of health and safety. The theme reiterates that, as societies continue to address the ongoing pandemic and begin to enter a new normal, our future is at hand.

“Frequent handwashing with soap is one of the cheapest, easiest, and most important ways to prevent the spread of diseases including COVID-19. Besides following other safety protocols, the collective adherence of the public towards handwashing with soap would help Bhutan sustain the success it has achieved in protecting the health of its people, especially during the pandemic,” states the joint press release from the MoE, SNV Bhutan and UNICEF.

“The act of handwashing with soap is as much a form of paying gratitude to Their Majesties, the monastic body and the Government for their selfless leadership and support in ensuring access to handwashing facilities.”

According to the MoE, schools recorded a 77% increase in handwashing facilities last year. Monastic institutions, health care facilities and public places across Bhutan have also recorded increased access to inclusive handwashing facilities. The Royal Government of Bhutan is partnering with SNV Bhutan, UNICEF and WHO and the private sector to strengthen Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) services and facilities across the country.

Given their collective efforts in inculcating the habit of handwashing with soap among children and visitors to health care facilities, the Global Handwashing Day also acknowledges the service of health coordinators in schools and monastic institutions and health workers across the country.

A school health coordinator for 10 years, Yangchen Dema at Zilukha Middle Secondary School in Thimphu said handwashing is today an ingrained habit among children in schools, which was strengthened with the response to the pandemic, especially improved water supply.

“Handwashing with soap has brought down the incidence of flu among students. Children don’t fall ill as they used to and do not miss school,” she added.

Health workers have always been advocating for hand hygiene, during their community visits as well as at health care facilities.

Senior health assistant at Lajab Primary Health Centre in Dagana, Dawa Dema said she always visits schools and villages to engage the communities on the importance of handwashing with soap.

“We observed the day during our out-reach clinic visit to Balung chiwog and showed them how to use the pedal handwashing station and reinforced the benefits of handwashing,” she said. More than 30 residents visited the out-reach clinic at Balung.

At Genzin Dratshang in Gyalpoizhing, Mongar, lopon Tashi shared about the importance of hand hygiene to the school’s 55 monks. “We always observe Global Handwashing Day, which is an opportunity to emphasize the importance of handwashing with soap and sanitation.”

The latest State of the World’s Hand Hygiene report by UNICEF and WHO states that investing in hand hygiene yields huge returns. One estimate places the economic savings associated with hand hygiene policies at on average 15 times the cost of implementation.

Globally, current progress rates must quadruple to reach universal hygiene by 2030. In the least developed countries, the rate of progress would need to increase ten-fold, and in fragile contexts, it would need to accelerate by a factor of 23.

The report identifies five accelerators that can enable governments to rapidly scale up access to hand hygiene – good governance, smart public finance, capacity building, consistent data, and innovation.

Staff Reporter from Thimphu