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Healthcare providers all over the globe are fighting the good fight, working to inculcate healthy hand hygiene habits among youngsters.

In Ottawa, Canada, schoolchildren aged 6 through 9 are following the World Health Organization’s (WHO) six-step hand-washing routine while singing kid-approved lyrics to the tune of “Frere Jacques”:

“Scrub your palms, between the fingers

Wash the back (one hand), wash the back (other hand)

Twirl the tips (one hand) around (other hand)

Scrub them upside down

Thumb attack (one thumb)! Thumb attack (other thumb)!”

To test the effectiveness of the didactic sing-and-wash routine, researchers applied fluorescent marks to the kids’ hands prior to hand-washing and checked for the reduction of the markings afterwards.

In southern India, researchers from the University of Glasgow in Scotland and Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham University have been conducting their own experiments in improving kids’ hand hygiene. At a government primary school in Kerala, 45 Indian students ages 5-10 were trained in hand-washing skills while guided by an anthropomorphic hand-shaped attendant named Pepe.

Mounted on a wall beside the school’s hand-washing stations, Pepe consists of a basic robotic arm assembly with a plastic hand and a videotronic “mouth” through which he “speaks” to students as they wash. As kids clean their hands, Pepe refers them to an illustrated poster depicting an eight-step hygienic hand-washing routine, and “follows” their progress with his moveable eyes. Pepe has taught students to wash their hands before meals and after using the toilet, and overall has improved their hand-washing skills by 40%, according to the researchers.

In addition to the marked improvement in the children’s hand hygiene habits, Pepe was a hit. Over 90% of the students said they would like to see Pepe again after their summer holiday, and “over seven in 10 of them thought Pepe was alive, largely due to its ability to talk.”

Other projects focus on the spreading of germs to emphasize the importance of proper hand hygiene. During a height-of-flu season lesson at Angie Grant Elementary in Benton, Arkansas, a school nurse, Ronda Wagner, collaborated with second-grade school teacher Anna Lawrence to depict the ease with which germs can be transferred. They coated a soft football with a special powder, which students then tossed among themselves in the room. Afterwards, viewing themselves under ultraviolet light, the kids could see that the powder had spread—not only to their hands—but also to their faces and arms.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) presents compelling reasons to encourage training in hand hygiene at an early age. According to the CDC, hand-washing education can:

  • Reduce the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by 23-40%
  • Reduce diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58%
  • Reduce respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16-21%
  • Reduce absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness in schoolchildren by 29-57%

And if plain statistics on hand hygiene are too dry for youngsters with dirty hands, you can always refer them to the revolting findings of the (figuratively) viral “Bread” science project of behavioral Specialist Jaralee Annice Metcalf in Idaho.

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