The efficacy of cleansing agents in handwashing

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The global disease burden is enormous, with the developing countries bearing the heaviest part of this burden. Hygiene practices have been neglected for a long time, thus allowing preventable diseases to take their toll on the lives and health of millions of people. Most of these diseases, for example the faecal-oral diseases such as diarrhoea, are preventable through simple but effective and cost-effective personal hygiene practices, including handwashing. Although handwashing is an age old practice, it is done for varied reasons, and without adequate knowledge about its ability to save lives through the reduction of disease causing pathogens. The purpose of the study was to assess the efficacy of various cleansing agents employed in handwashing, to reduce microbial load on hands, since hands are known to be “mechanical vectors” in the transmission of diseases. It also offered the opportunity to identify cleansing agents available even in rural poor communities, effective in reducing pathogens and the ultimate reduction of diseases. The study was undertaken at the Ayeduase Roman Catholic Junior High School. A questionnaire survey was carried out with 100 respondents to ascertain the practice of handwashing and cleansing agents used. Samples of the thumb, index and middle fingers of the right hand of 80 students were taken to assess the level of microbial contamination on unwashed hands. Participants washed their hands with soap, dipped their right hands in seeded water (suspension of microbes) and samples of the thumb, index and middle fingers of the right hands were taken. Participants then washed their hands with the various cleansing agents provided after which final samples of the three fingers were taken. For purposes of the study, cleansing agents provided were water only, ash, citrus lime and soap. Chromocult agar was the medium used for the isolation of pathogens which were Escherichia coli, Sallmonella typhi, other Coliforms and other Enterobacteriaceae. Data from the questionnaires administered showed that 83% of respondents washed hands after using the toilet and 77% used soap in handwashing. Laboratory analysis showed that some individuals’ fingers were very dirty. Again, cleansing agents used were able to reduce microbes by more than 50%. Findings from the study indicated that hands do carry microbial contaminants. Also all the cleansing agents provided –water only, ash, citrus lime and soap – have the ability to reduce microbes on the hands. It is recommended that education be carried out to inform people, particularly the rural poor communities, to wash their hands with any of the agents that are available locally, for disease prevention and healthy lives.
A Thesis submitted to the School of Graduate Studies, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Science in Environmental Resources Management