Teaching a generation to wash their hands

Each year on 15 October, people worldwide celebrate Global Handwashing Day. It sounds almost too simple to be true, but properly washing your hands with soap and water is the most affordable and effective way of preventing a range of health problems including diarrhea and respiratory infections – problems which currently are the cause of death of millions of children, particularly in the developing countries of the world.

This is one of those astonishingly simple and obvious things to promote – if we can foster a generation of youngsters for whom handwashing is an integral part of their lives, it could “save more lives than any single existing vaccine of medical intervention, cutting deaths from diarrhea by almost half and deaths from acute respiratory infections by one-quarter.”

Wash your hands with soap and water before eating and after going to the toilet – it couldn’t simpler.
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2012 is the fifth anniversary of Global Handwashing Day. In celebrating this fact, the theme for this year is “Help More Children Reach Their 5th Birthday”.

The reason why Global Handwashing Day is focussed on children is simply the fact that they represent the segment of society that is most enthusiastic and most susceptible to new ideas. If the current generation of children can be convinced of the value of washing your hands before eating and after going to the toilet, the habit can be entrenched in future generations, which could result in literally millions of lives being saved.

So if you have kids, do your bit and teach them the value of regularly washing their hands. Even if you don’t have kids, you can help by sharing the idea with friends, promoting it at local schools, etc. It may not feel like it, but it could really be the simplest and most significant intervention you can contribute to in your lifetime.

The birth of the modern day washing detergent

So… What should today be celebrated for?

Apparently it’s Drive-In Movie Day in the US, celebrating the first drive-in movie theater opening in Camden New Jersey in 1933. Today is also the commemoration of D-Day, 1944, when Allied troops invaded the beaches of Normandy, France.  Hmmm, well yes.

Perhaps most significantly, today is the Transit of Venus – a once in a lifetime (ok, twice-in-125-years, to be exact) event when Venus will be seen passing in orbit between the earth and the sun. Next time this will happen will be 2117, so it’s a pretty big deal, but unfortunately things are looking heavily overcast here in NZ, so I’m not holding my breath.

No, instead of drive-in movies, invading troops or passing planets, today I’m celebrating fresh, clean and stain-free clothes!  Because today in 1907, Persil was introduced by Henkel & Cie as the first commercially available “self-activated” washing powder in the world. The term self-activated refers to the fact that it combined bleach and soap in a single powder.

Never take your clean, bright, stain-free washing for granted again – it took some clever chemistry more than 100 years ago to make it happen!
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Interestingly, the name Persil comes from a combination of the two main chemical components in the detergent, namely sodium perborate (a bleaching agent) and silicate (a washing agent).

Before Persil came up with this innovative combination of bleach and soap, washing powder was really nothing more than crushed soap, which cleaned clothes but had little stain-removal effect.  The sodium perborate in the new product oxygenated to form small bubbles that permeated the washing, and bleached out stains, replacing the earlier-used method of laying clothes out in the sun to bleach.

So not only did it save time, but also a lot of effort, making laundry day much less of a chore. And that must be worth celebrating!

(Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persil)