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Covid-19: Driving toilet hygiene adoption in India
The Covid-19 outbreak has not only highlighted the chinks in the Indian healthcare ecosystem, but also the importance that often-ignored aspects of life such as toilet hygiene, writes Vikas Bagaria, founder, Pee Safe, in Times of India.
A number of studies on various coronavirus-based diseases such as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and the Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) have proved that faecal-oral transmission is a key driver for them.
The spotlight on this aspect of toilet hygiene has been underscored by the pandemic, but by focusing on it, other infections caused by intestinal microbes can also be reduced. A large number of people especially young children lose their lives every year due to lack of access to hygienic toilets across India. The outbreak of Covid-19 has further enhanced their risk factors.
While it is true that the faecal-oral transmission is just one of the probable causes of the pandemic, it also means that by taking this channel out of the equation, the pandemic spread can be reduced. There will be less likelihood of cross-infection among toilet users as well as in the areas surrounding the toilets.
Being confined spaces, toilets are likely to teem with viruses after a confirmed Covid-19 patient uses the facility. Therefore, toilets need to be considered as one of the high potential sources of infection for people. Unhygienic and incorrect usage of the toilet is likely to cause cross-infection through faecal-oral transmission.
The risk is equally high for the public and private washrooms. Covid-19 patients with mild to no symptoms stay at home for the mandatory isolation period and the patient has to invariably share the washroom with the other family members. In low-income localities where residents use community toilets, the sharing of the washroom by a confirmed patient can potentially cause mass infections. It is this risk of infections that necessitates adoption of toilet hygiene measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Even before the pandemic had spread, the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal number 6, Target 2 on sanitation had envisaged access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all the people in the world and an end to open defecation. This made sanitation a global priority and India is one of the major areas in which this emphasis on toilet hygiene is being focused.
The real challenge to maintaining hygiene comes from not only the lack of access to hygienic toilets across India, but also inadequate awareness and adherence to the right hygienic practices. In the wake of the pandemic, various corporate entities, leading personal hygiene brands, and social organizations have been running sustained campaigns to promote various aspects of toilet hygiene.
Since most contagious diseases spread through contact with contaminated surfaces, the most effective strategy is to adopt a robust sanitation and hygiene routine. Ensuring that none of the commonly touchable surfaces remains unhygienic and following strict hand-hygiene practices has become an essential part of the recommended lifestyle.
Until now, the tendency was to perceive clean looking surfaces as safe, but now there is ample awareness about the need for completely disinfecting the living premises - especially a high-risk area such as the toilet.
In a country where a large number of people didn't even wash their hands after using the toilet before the pandemic, it has now become a habit to use hand sanitisers every time one touches a common use surface especially in toilets or in public areas.
There is no doubt that the world has entered a new era of sanitised living after enduring the pandemic. The key for the future is to maintain the habits and avoid letting the guard down irrespective of whether one is in private spaces or public buildings. With this enhanced focus on toilet hygiene, we are likely to see a reduction in all contagious disease instances in the times to come.
7th October 2021