It’s the tourist season. And at mealtimes, tourists across our country – in restaurants and in dining tents – will regard, with some amusement, their guides roll and set aside small balls of rice.
“Bhutanese way of washing hand!” our guides will declare referring to their pre-meal rituals. Some of the tourists will, as always, give it a try, and end up, as always, with streaks of black starch on their hands. The other tourists will laugh. And the guides will attempt to explain how we, Bhutanese, “dry clean” our hands.
This traditional way of “washing” our hands may generate some fun. But it can be very problematic too. The Ministry of Health has identified the common cold and diarrhoea as the top two diseases infecting our people. And both of them spread easily when hands are not washed properly and regularly. Last year, hospitals around the country treated more than 300,000 incidences of the common cold and more than 92,000 incidences of diarrhoea and dysentery. Tragically many children, especially those below five, still succumb to these diseases.
Health experts say that washing hands with soap reduces the incidence of diarrheal diseases by half, and acute respiratory infections by 25%. That’s a huge reduction in needless suffering, one that we could very easily profit from. Just think about it: the simple act of washing our hands with soap – especially before eating or after using the toilet – can improve the quality of our lives immeasurably. It can also prevent many unnecessary premature deaths. But that’s not all: washing hands with soap can also fight the spread of many skin infections, other respiratory diseases, intestinal worms and numerous other infections.
Yes, we could continue “washing” our hands with rice. But, let’s do so only after we’ve first washed them with soap.
Today, October 15th, is Global Handwashing Day!