A few years back, when I started #handhygiene as a hub for all information on Twitter dealing with handwashing and sanitizer use, I had hoped to develop a community that would openly and freely express its passion for keeping those hands clean.

In 2013, information on hand hygiene has become a staple on Twitter and grown into other areas of social media to encompass blogs, YouTube sites, Facebook sites such as the Hand Hygiene Project, Pinterest pages, and even Reddit.  Pretty much anywhere you look in social media, you’ll find someone, somewhere has devoted some space to promote and share information and stories on hand hygiene.

But while #handhygiene has been a great start, no organization has a greater impact than the World Health Organization and their SAVE LIVES:  Clean Your Hands campaign, which celebrates annually on May 5th.  I consider this to be the most important day in hand hygiene.

The campaign was initially targeted at healthcare facilities and those who work tirelessly to keep up healthy.  While their work is exemplary in so many ways, there was one problem that continued to affect not only the success of their efforts but also the people who entered these clinics looking for help…

Nosocomial infections or as they are better known as: Health Care Acquired Infections.

Granted, these types of infections have been known for hundreds of years. If they hadn’t been around, we might not have had the introduction of hand hygiene as a practice brought to us by pioneers such as Ignaz Semmelweis and Joseph Lister.  But the problem wasn’t solved by the introduction of more modern hospitals and increased technology.  No matter what may have been implemented to help improve the benefit of the patient (call it quality of care), those pesky infections transferred from hands continued.

The challenges were shown to be even greater when researcher widened the scope from doctors and nurses to well, everybody.  There might have been some issue with a lack of proper adherence to hand hygiene by professionals but that was nothing compared to the rate in the general public.  There was little to deny that while people may profess that they have clean hands, there isn’t many who actually wash them.

Ironically, there was one way to ensure that people (and healthcare workers) washed:


A study conducted a few years back with the intention of determining the actual rate of hand hygiene in the public revealed something a little different.  If someone was being watched, even casually, then that person was more likely to perform handwashing.

With that information out, the answer to all hand hygiene champions was quite simple: peer pressure works!

(Okay, we all knew that thanks to smoking and drinking).

But that realization sparked a new direction for the promotion of hand hygiene from the walls of health care to the open air of the public forum.  Today, champions influence not by sharing statistics and research papers although there are still plenty of those.  Instead, the messages are manifested in calls to those who are tired of (and possibly sick from) a lack of proper adherence to what is the simplest, easiest and most effective way to prevent infection spread.

As May 5th approaches, there is something different going on in social media and it directly involves you, the reader and everyone around you.  While SAVE LIVES focuses on including institutions into a global hand hygiene pledge, the rest of us can take a similar pledge, a personal pledge, to do our best to improve hand hygiene everywhere else.  Best of all, it’s easy to take and there’s not much required afterwards.

All you need to do is:

1. Take the pledge!  

 “I, [YOUR NAME] pledge that I will be a part of a
global movement to improve hand hygiene!”

 2. Wash your hands! 

3. Tell everyone you know about the pledge and let them
know that when you are together, you will be ‘watching them’.
(BTW, it’s cooler if you use Mr. Smith’s voice from the Matrix
check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=loinY8MmVq8)

4. Have fun.  

Let’s face it, hand hygiene, shouldn’t be taken too seriously.  After all, it is a fun act that can be enjoyed by everyone.  It can calm the soul and offer us a brief retreat from the day to day grind.  It’s simple, inexpensive and yes, goes a very long way to help to save a sniffle and even a life.

So, as we head to May 5th, I invite you to leave me a comment to let me know that you have taken the pledge.

For those of you who are more involved in social media, leave me a Tweet at @JATetro so that I can share it with the world.

As to those who know how to make a short video, post your best “Mr. Smith” impersonation of your pledge to watch and I’ll share it here, on Facebook and Twitter.

Happy Hand Hygiene Day to everyone!