Proper handwashing is generally an important part of our lives in order to maintain personal hygiene and prevent the spread of viral illnesses such as cold and flu. The importance of handwashing has been highlighted by the COVID-19 global pandemic as washing our hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds helps in preventing the spread of coronavirus.

Hand hygiene is easily neglected among people that do not take the process seriously, mostly due to the lack to awareness as well as access to soap and water. However, neglecting proper seven-step handwashing process can cause life-threatening illnesses.

With no vaccine to fight the coronavirus infection as of yet, it is really important to practice preventative measures, such as handwashing, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, and social distancing to protect ourselves from getting infected.

The coronavirus lasts for days on several surfaces leading to human transmission; therefore, contactless handwashing is proven to be even more effective as it doesn’t include touching any surfaces.

A report from JMP, a WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene suggests that 54% of Health Care Facilities (HCFs) in Nepal do not have handwashing materials, such as soap and water, at point of care.

Several HCFs, have recently been installing contactless handwashing stations so that the patients and visitors are able to maintain hygiene and support in the process to curb coronavirus transmission in the community.

A contactless handwashing station consists of a regular source of water, a tap operated by foot, and a liquid soap dispenser, also operated by foot. While using a contactless handwashing station, users don’t need to touch the tap or soap dispenser with their hands as they are operated by foot.

Lalitpur-based Patan Hospital, where several coronavirus infected people are admitted and discharged since the COVID-19 outbreak began in Nepal, have also installed a contactless handwashing station which was donated by Rotary Club of Kathmandu.

The chair of Infection Prevention and Control Committee for Patan Hospital, Dr Piyush Rajbhandari, said, “The foot-operated handwashing station is important in crowded areas such as hospitals since chances of transmission can be high while using public taps.”

“The club provided us with some soaps and liquid handwash at the time of installation, but we are currently using our own supply. We will be using the foot-operated handwashing station till it is usable but we are not sure what will become of it once it goes dysfunctional or the threat of COVID-19 subsides,” he said.

Several public as well as private organizations have installed contactless handwashing stations and hand sanitizer pumping machines in their premises.

The Kanti Children’s Hospital, Maharajgunj has installed three handwashing stations – two with their own fund while one located at the main entrance was donated by the joint effort of Machhapuchhre Bank and Nepal Police.

Director for Kanti Children’s Hospital, Dr Shree Krishna Paudel, believes that the main medium of coronavirus transmission is via infected people touching their faces, eyes, and noses, and then coming in contact with uninfected persons with activities such as shaking hands.

Paudel said, “Even though we can’t pin point the exact percentage on the effectiveness of contactless handwashing stations, we can say with certainty that such stations help in prevention of transmission since cleaning hands frequently coupled with social distancing and wearing mask is currently the only preventive methods to break the COVID-19 transmission cycle.”

While asked whether the hospital plans on using such stations forever or till the pandemic continues, Paudel replied, “Well, this is really good question. I believe contactless handwashing system needs to continue even after the pandemic ends as there are several other communicable diseases which can be prevented with proper hygiene care. This (contact-less handwashing) is much more cost-effective and helpful than treating the patients after they get infected.”

According to the latest WHO data published in 2018, 5.91% of total deaths that occur in Nepal is due to diarrhoeal disease. Diarrhoeal disease is also the second leading cause of death in children under five years – a disease that is preventable with improved personal hygiene.