Cii Radio | 05 Safar 1436/28 November 2014

It is such a simple action, a matter of routine for more than 1.6 billion persons globally. Yet, today it is being touted as a major weapon in the fight against ebola and other contagious diseases. In fact, it has been deemed so beneficial that South Africa’s health minister this week launched a major campaign to raise awareness on its importance to society.

Hand washing is a practice ingrained in the Muslim lifestyle and one held sacred as a teaching and Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad SAW. It is also a natural action that lends itself to cleanliness and good health.

However as logical as it would seem, South Africa’s Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi on Monday revealed the shocking statistic that only 20% of individuals around the globe have committed themselves to washing their hands regularly.

Speaking at the launch of Public Hand Hygiene Campaign in Pretoria, Motsoaledi said it was alarming to see people not making hand-washing a norm at this critical stage.

“Hand washing is only practiced 20% of the time at critical moments. It’s something that is simple, but people are yet not used to it, maybe because of its simplicity, because people will believe something that saves lives. It’s an injection or a bottle of pills, or being on drip, or on an operating theatre. They do not know that simply hand washing can save more lives than we can even go by injections. So because of that simplicity, people don’t value it yet.”

The Minister said thorough hand washing with soap can save lives and play a significant role in reducing the child mortality rate from diarrhoea and pneumonia.

He said both diseases account for 1.7 million deaths of children each year.

Motsoaledi said hand washing can reduce diseases like diarrhoea by 50%.

“Infectious germs on the hands are the most common ways that people spread infection. This is caused by rubbing their noses and eyes with their hands, which can be contaminated with the cold virus and other bacteria,” Minister Motsoaledi said.

He encouraged hand washing with soap at schools, homes and communities.

He added that he believed hand washing had great potential to stop the spread of Ebola.

“Hand washing protection works by washing of [viruses] like Ebola off your hands before they get a chance to infect you either by getting into your body through your skin… or when you touch your eyes, nose and mouth with your hands,” said the Minister.

“Ensuring that the public knows about the role of hand washing in preventing infections and viruses such as Ebola is only one part of the battle. The real challenge comes in ensuring that the behaviour is practised at critical times.”

The Minister said for this behaviour to be practised efficiently, people must have universal convenient access to functional hand washing stations with soap and running water, whether in hospitals or health care centres and their homes.

“The greatest power lies actually in your hands and it is hand washing. This is a proven public health intervention,” he said.

Speaking at the same event, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative, Herve Ludovic de Lys, reiterated Motsoaledi’s sentiments, saying hand washing had proven to be a successful intervention in decreasing child mortality and morbidity.

De Lys said clean water supply, sanitation and hygiene has a direct impact on reducing infectious diseases, especially diarrhoea.

World Health Organisation (WHO) representative to South Africa, Sarah Barber, said the launch of the Public Hand Hygiene Campaign could not have come at a more critical time with the grave public anxieties over ebola.

De Lys  proposed that hand washing should be promoted by religious institutions, non-profit organisations and early childhood development centres.

Sunnah

For Muslims around the world, for whom the practice of hand washing is second-nature, that so much effort and resources be channeled towards educating about such a seemingly logical practice may appear surprising.

Equally though, it may be considered an indictment on practicing Muslims who have failed to educate and propagate the innumerable beneficial tenets of their lifestyle widely enough so that it could save lives and uplift society.

Hand washing has advocated by Nabi Muhammad SAW, the final messenger to humankind, as an important ritual to be practiced regularly throughout the day.

1) On Waking Up

“When you get up from bed, don’t put your hand in a bowl( of food/drink) before washing it three times,” reported by al-Bukhari and Muslim.

2)Before and after eating

The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “The blessings in the meal is by washing before and after it.” (Hadith- Abu Dawud)

3)After relieving oneself

Abu Hurairah RA said, “When the Messenger of Allah upon whom be peace, relieved himself, I used to bring him a container of water. He would cleanse himself, then rub his hands against the soil.”

4) Before Sleeping

The Prophet (pbuh) said: “He who goes to sleep with his hands smelling of grease and suffers something evil in consequence shall have no one but himself to blame” [Ibn Majah]