Just 35% Indian homes wash hands with soap, water before meals

Harikishan Sharma
coronavirus india Just 35% Indian homes wash hands with soap, water before meals

Handwashing day at a slum in Chandigarh. (File)

WHILE THE government and experts recommend washing of hands with soap and water as one of the basic protective measures against coronavirus, a survey done by the National Statistics Office (NSO) shows it’s not a habit that comes easily to most Indians. According to the survey, while members of most households (99 per cent) wash their hands before a meal, only those in 35.8 per cent households do so with “water and soap/detergent”.

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The survey, the results of which were made public in a report titled ‘Drinking Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Housing Condition’ in November last year, covered 1,06,838 households (63,736 in rural areas and 43,102 in urban areas).

According to the survey, a household was considered following the practice of hand washing “if majority of the household members usually washed their hands”.

The survey revealed a wide gap in the hand-washing practice in urban and rural areas - while members of 56 per cent urban households reported washing their hands with water and soap before eating, only 25.3 per cent households in rural areas did so.

Just 35% Indian homes wash hands with soap, water before meals

There are households where people wash their hands before a meal, but not with water and soap/detergent.

The report also revealed that the percentage of households whose members practise hand washing ‘with water and soap/detergent’ before a meal to be lowest in Jharkhand (10.6 per cent) and the highest in Sikkim (87.1 per cent).

Apart from Jharkhand, Bihar (14.3 per cent), Odisha (15.1 per cent), Uttar Pradesh (23.8 per cent) and Tamil Nadu (27.3 per cent) made it to the bottom 5 states which fared poorly on hand-washing.

Sikkim is followed by Himachal Pradesh (86.2 per cent), Chandigarh (81 per cent), Punjab (77.5 per cent) and Delhi (73.5 per cent) as states where most people washed their hands the recommended way - with water and soap.

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Then, there are households where people wash their hands before a meal, but not with water and soap/detergent.

About 60.4 per cent households — 69.9 per cent rural and 42.1 per cent urban — used only water to wash their hands before eating. About 2.7 per cent households - 3.5 per cent rural, 1.3 per cent urban -used “water and ash/mud/sand etc.” to wash hands. There were about one per cent households that did not wash hands at all before a meal.

This low level of hand hygiene is likely to pose a major challenge as the country deals with COVID-19. In order to contain the spread of coronavirus, the government has advised people to frequently wash their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub as an effective way to kill viruses. The World Health Organisation too has advised people to frequently wash their hands.

But if it’s any consolation, a significantly higher number of people (those in 74.1% households) reported that they washed their hands with ‘water and soap/detergent’ after defecation — 68.8 per cent rural households and 88.3 per cent urban ones.

The NSO, which comes under the Union Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, conducted the survey between July and December 2018.

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