Sun.
Nov 28
2021
Image: Christine Sandu via Unsplash

Although it’s clashes over vaccines and masks that make the headlines, hand hygiene remains a simple and effective way to prevent the spread of infection. Of course, it’s not a new method: handwashing is mentioned in the Bible, and its effectiveness was scientifically proven in the 19th century. It’s only recently that handwashing has been neglected, but COVID-19 drove the world to refocus on this simple, effective way to stay safe and healthy.  

To mark Global Handwashing Day (October 15), NEO spoke with Stanislav Varich, CEO of tech-based business solutions company Connectome.ai, to delve into the existing and future capabilities of handwashing technology.

1. Given all of the medical advancements around virus prevention, why focus on handwashing? 

All hygiene risks can be mitigated on a number of levels. Getting vaccinated, wearing a mask indoors, washing your hands, and practising social distancing are all individually effective ways of reducing the spread of COVID-19. In order to reach the much touted ‘new normal’, though, we need to adopt all of these measures en masse.

It is not enough to wear a mask if you are then going to touch your face with unwashed hands. Regular, thorough handwashing is not only the most effective first line of defence against COVID-19, but also the easiest measure to incorporate into our day-to-day lives. Good handwashing is not expensive, uncomfortable, nor excessively time consuming. It is also doubly useful insofar as it reduces the spread of all microbes – bacteria as well as viruses. The pandemic has taught us that changes to our daily routine can save lives; handwashing is no exception, although it is too often overlooked

2. What barriers remain for hand hygiene? 

Perhaps the most obvious hurdle in many areas is access to soap and clean water. This applies particularly in developing countries, but not exclusively. This year, the charity Surge for Water teamed up with soap company Soapbox to train soap ambassadors in Uganda and Haiti, who trained 500 people to make and distribute soap in their community. 

A more surprising obstacle to universal hand hygiene is education. Even in places with good access to soap and clean water, handwashing is often not taken seriously enough. According to a study by the American Psychological Association, only 5% of people wash their hands for long enough to kill germs in public restrooms.

Even more shocking is the rate of adherence to handwashing standards in healthcare environments, where handwashing is a crucial way of combatting the transmission of pathogens. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, the rate of adherence to handwashing standards in critical care units was only 46%. It is clear that a lot of work remains to be done, which is why initiatives such as Global Handwashing Day remain relevant and vital.  

3. What is the role of corporations in ensuring hand hygiene? 

Just as they are expected to care for their employees in other regards, corporations should take responsibility for good hand hygiene among their staff, as it’s necessary for a safe and hygienic workplace. Spending on workplace hygiene tech is expected to reach an impressive $400 million by 2025. Connectome.ai’s hand-washing system is designed for use by corporations with a large workforce, and aims to eliminate the scope for human error as well as teaching proper hand hygiene. The system includes a screen that can fit on any sink, and integrated with a turnstyle, if desired, to ensure proper handwashing prior to entering the workplace. 

Another important role of large organisations is their potential to form partnerships which contribute to the effort to achieve universal hand hygiene. The partnership of Soap Box with Surge for Water mentioned earlier is one of many examples. In Nigeria last year, the World Health Organisation distributed 1,000 metal handwashing notices to ministries and companies, which showed the proper steps for thorough handwashing. From March to October 2020, more than 50,000 people saw those signs. 

4. What technological solutions exist for handwashing challenges? 

The digital transformation has affected handwashing as profoundly as every other aspect of our lives. Touchless cleaning is one example which many readers will already have noticed. Motion sensors are now being surpassed by UV light disinfection systems, which eliminate up to 97.7% of pathogens in operating rooms, according to research by the American Journal of Infection Control

Hand sanitiser is another hand hygiene product which has seen massively increased uptake as a result of the pandemic. It can help prevent the spread of germs on the go or when there is no tap at hand, although it is not as effective as soap and water

Automation is another natural progression in the development of hand hygiene technology. The obvious benefits of automation, such as reduced human error, increased efficiency, and lower costs, are as applicable to handwashing as they are to any other business process. Systems which incorporate AI use radio frequency identification technology or even facial recognition technology to ensure that only those who have undertaken the correct handwashing measures are able to enter certain areas, from workplaces and factory floors to football stadiums.

Such technology has the added benefits of being able to collect data on handwashing habits and simultaneously educate users so that they can slowly change their handwashing behaviour for the better. Embracing technology like this allows business leaders and organisations to benefit from increased efficiency, productivity and cost advantages. 

5. Where can handwashing technologies be implemented? 

Of course, healthcare is an obvious example of where hand hygiene technology makes sense, and already, healthcare providers are implementing these tools. Food services is another industry especially well-suited to these solutions, as is food enterprises, since hygienic production is necessary to guarantee a safe product on supermarket shelves. 

However, as workers return to offices en masse, it’s easy to see how automated hand hygiene technology makes sense in a broad array of settings. Schools, government offices, banks – really, any space where large groups of people gather regularly and would benefit from a clean space can benefit from hand hygiene technology. 

Automated handwashing tech reduces human error in any workplace, and its application embraces the theme of this year’s Global Handwashing Day theme – “Our Future is at Hand – Let’s Move Forward Together.”  

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