Good hygiene habits should be taught in early childhood as simple handwashing with soap can prevent viral diseases like Covid-19, speakers told a programme on Wednesday.
They suggested that handwashing be made mandatory at all educational institutions before reopening to contain further spread of the coronavirus in Bangladesh.
The observations came during a virtual roundtable titled 'H for Handwashing-A Protected Hand Means a Protected Nation' hosted by Unilever Bangladesh on the eve of Global Handwashing Day 2020 today (Thursday).
Education Minister Dr Dipu Moni as the chief guest addressed the programme moderated by senior journalist Shyamal Dutta.
Unilever Bangladesh Chairman and Managing Director Kedar Lele, BRAC Executive Director Asif Saleh, Plan International Bangladesh Country Director Orla Murphy and WaterAid Bangladesh Country Director Hasin Jahan attended the event.
Save the Children Bangladesh Director (programme development and quality) Reefat Bin Sattar and UNICEF chief of WASH programme Dara Johnston also participated in the discussion.
Delivering her speech, Dr Moni said the importance of handwashing was widely realised at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Although many people know about hand hygiene, many of them do not practise it on a regular basis, she added.
Taking lessons from diarrhoea prevention campaigns, the minister said the government had been emphasising handwashing in the public health campaigns.
"We're including handwashing as one of the important protective measures against Covid-19 in the textbook as learning is effective during early childhood."
Dr Moni said the government is thinking of making it mandatory for educational institutions to ensure the handwashing facility at the entrance before restarting academic activities.
Mr Saleh said Covid-19 taught the importance of hygiene and it is the best opportunity for campaigning countrywide to help people realise the significance of simple handwashing with soap.
Citing a BRAC survey, he said 38.4-per cent rural people having handwashing facilities often forget to wash hands before meals while 44.9-per cent rural households do not have soap.
Bringing behavioural change in early childhood about handwashing practice would have a better impact on the efforts to ensure hygiene for all, Mr Saleh added.
"Including hygiene issues in the textbooks of primary schools and teaching about handwashing and other hygiene measures to primary students can make a big difference for future generations."
Mr Lele said Bangladesh has made tremendous progress in the areas of gender balance, human development index, preventing open defecation and economic development.
If people join hands, he said, anything is possible or achievable.
By the same token, if all the stakeholders join hands, it is possible to take the handwashing campaign countrywide, especially at schools, Mr Lele mentioned.
Citing the Bangladesh Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2019, Mr Johnston said about 75-per cent households here have handwashing facility with soap.
But there are not good indicators of whether people wash their hands properly or not, he remarked.
At the same time, only 44 per cent of the poorest households have handwashing facility which needs more concentration in development approaches as they are most vulnerable.
The Hygiene Survey-2018 shows 65 per cent of co-educational schools have separate toilets for girls and boys but only 39 per cent of them have handwashing facility with soap, Mr Johnston said.
Global Handwashing Day is celebrated on October 15 every year to highlight the importance of handwashing with soap.