Friday, July 11, 2008

Restroom horrors

Washing hands Could go a long way in preventing infections

Recently, the World Health Organization reported that poor hygiene and toilet habits have cost the life of thousands in Asia. As per the report, out of 1.8 million worldwide deaths from poor hygiene, two-thirds are from Asia with more than half in India and China. This raises the issue of lack of proper sanitation in India. This is mainly because of improper maintenance, improper usage of toilets, improper ventilation, lack of awareness about healthy habits and illiteracy. “We have eight bathrooms but only one is functional,” says Rekha, a final-year microbiology student in the city. “We don’t even have sufficient number of mugs and buckets,” she adds. Of course, extra care is taken to maintain only the staff toilets.

Tamil Selvi, a class IV student from a reputed school says she never turns to ‘that’ area because it makes her nauseous. Sometimes, the students are forced to carry water bottles due to lack of water supply. “Because some children avoid using unhygienic toilets, they may develop urinary tract infection at a later stage," says Dr. Mohan Stephen, a child specialist. He also points out that the flies in toilets are major carriers of cholera and typhoid. “Though preventive vaccinations and medicines are available, the danger still remains.”

Foul odour and slippery floors are signs of improper maintenance. Germs thrive in such restrooms. Lack of supplies such as water, mugs, buckets and dustbins prevent users from keeping the toilets clean. Those infected by germs are likely to transfer them through contact with door handles and taps. Though one cannot avoid the germs completely, the simple act of washing one’s hands can drastically reduce the chance of germ transference.

Experts say that the Government should intervene and pay more attention to sanitation. Awareness creation and privatisation of public toilets, education on healthy habits and proper toilet design can alter the situation significantly. “Above all, everyone should try and maintain the public toilets the way they would their own toilets at home,” says Dr. Stephen.

Doctors point out that women’s restrooms have twice the bacteria than men’s; also they are more prone to related diseases. More people like Sudha Krishnan are called for. A medical officer at PSG Urban Centre, Coimbatore, she conducts awareness programmes regularly to make the 22 slums in her area disease-free.

To educate the public, Domex, a Hindustan Unilever product has launched a campaign on toilet hygiene in association with the Indian Medical Association, Mumbai. The objective is to share the findings of the Unilever Global Research Centre (on the harm caused by microscopic germs lurking in toilets) with the public.


This article is published in The Hindu Metroplus (Chennai and Coimbatore edition) on 10th July 2008.

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