Kurdistan Campaign for Hand Hygiene

By Chra Abdulla:Hand hygeine 1

When we are young our parents have always taught us to wash our hands after touching pets, playing in the garden, before/after eating and even after using the bathroom so that, by the time we become adults, hand washing becomes ‘second nature’. The skin on your hands is the first line of defence against many micro organisms what we all know as ‘germs’, including bacteria and viruses. Hand washing is a very important part of everyone’s daily life, not only does it give a sense of cleanliness but it also prevents many diseases from emerging. So, clean hands will reduce the risk of flu, food poisoning, typhoid and cholera and even many other infections being passed from person to person. Soap is also an important part of hand hygiene as it washes away the germs.

On 10th April 2014 IFMSA SCOPH (International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations – Standing Committee on Public Health) attended Ishik Gulan primary school in Kurdistan, North of Iraq. The aim was to promote hand hygiene for 300 students aged between 7-9 years. The motivation for this project was brought about in the national meeting held by the IFMSA medical students during August 2013. In that meeting we found out that, according to the World Health Organisation, Kurdistan is not a part of the global hand washing day. So I took it upon myself to change this and lead this project into hopefully a start of something great. I grew up in Australia so I wanted to see if the kids of Kurdistan had a good knowledge about hand hygiene, including when we should wash our hands, why we should wash them and the correct technique for hand washing. I have to say, the kids were not only competent in all these fields but they seemed very excited and even taught us a few things.

Hand hygiene 2The day began with about 60 students and we showed them a PowerPoint explaining hand hygiene terminology such as germs, hygiene, and soap; then we explained why, when and how we wash our hands. After we showed the children the ‘correct’ method of washing their hands, we choose some volunteers and practiced until the children understood the main concept; we also taught them that sneezing into your elbow is important to prevent the spread of germs. Then the students were divided into smaller groups to do various activities; some did hand painting, other placed glitter or coloured hand stencils and some sat on the mat and read books or watched videos related to hand hygiene. All these activities were then repeated for the next four groups of students.

At the end of the day we gave all 300 students a certificate to encourage them to continue hand washing and teaching others about the importance of what they learnt that day. Before the day concluded the students raised their hands and took 5 promises/oaths to continue washing their hands. We also placed all the hand stencils and hand painting on 2 large posters and gave them to the school as a reminder of the fun day we had at the school.

You too can get involved; all it takes is washing your hands for 15 to 30 seconds a day. The best way to achieve this is by singing “Happy Birthday” twice. Make sure to wash the top of your hands, then rub your palms together, also in between the fingers and nails and then your wrist area; don’t forget to dry your hands as wet hands allows bacteria to thrive. Finally, print ‘how to wash your hands’ posters all over your house, the hospitals and the public bathrooms in the malls/company/buildings so people can learn the ‘correct’ way of washing their hands.

Hopefully this is the beginning of something great and Kurdistan, especially our hospitals and the general public, can start participating in global hand washing day on 15th October and hand hygiene day on the 5th May so that Kurds can finally be a part of the WHO campaign. All I ask is that on these days you Tweet, Facebook, Instagram and promote on any other social media network a picture of yourself washing your hands, using the hashtags #HandHygiene and #IWashMyHands

Chra Abdulla is a Medical Student from Hawler Medical college. Born in Iran, grew up in Australia, she has recently moved back to Kurdistan to continue her studies from Dubai. She is very passionate about changing the health-care system and the way people approach health in Kurdistan.


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