The Fight Against COVID-19
HANDWASHING: The first line of defense
Soap, running water, and 20 seconds of patience, this is what it takes to wash your hands, which is the first line of defense in this global war against the novel coronavirus a.k.a COVID-19, according to the WHO. Tonnes of messages been churned out during this pandemic have emphasized this, consequently creating a spike in consumer demand for handwash products with businesses in the value chain been the biggest beneficiary.
Right now globally, Handwashing has become a daily ritual, receiving unprecedented attention, one that has outshined any campaign that the United Nations has ever made with the global handwashing week. Who would have thought that this simple and cheap act would be sort after as effective to protect people in a period like this? But not everyone has access to this “savior”.
According to UNICEF, 40% of the global population (3 billion people) live without basic handwashing facilities with soap and water available at home, with almost three-quarters of that number in the least developed countries. 15% of the figure from the least developed countries lives in sub-Saharan Africa. This means that this ritual of hand will be impossible and only but a luxury to this group of people. The infrastructural deficit, particularly in the Water and Sanitation Sector, is responsible for this.
A study carried out in Abuja, Nigeria, a West African state found that a very little number of households are connected to the public water system of the metropolis with the larger number seeking self-help by building their private supply a.k.a Borehole. Even at this point, the problem is far from over because oftentimes these supplies, whether public or private, run out water and there is a struggle to sustain their service, thanks to Nigeria's power crisis. For those people, especially in the suburbs or rural dwellings, who are neither connected to the public water grid or have their own "borehole", the only option is to buy directly from a commercial water vendor, and ritualized "washing of hands" is the last item to spend this hard-earned water on.
For someone who has managed to beat the "supply" problem, another monster awaits, it is called "scarcity". Yes, scarcity of other products in the value chain, except that these scarcities are artificial. In the wake of the pandemic, fear and anxiety ensued and people started embarking on panic buying. In the spirit of capitalism and the free market, the prices of products like hand sanitizers began to skyrocket as businesses within the value chain began to react to the impulse according to the law of economics. This then meant that you must be really “serious and able (in terms of money)” to meet with the demands in the market and keep up the supply you need to maintain the “good and safe” habit of handwashing.
No matter what the situation is; whether you live in the developed or developing world, urban or rural areas, whether rich or poor, this pandemic has given the topic of handwashing a broader conversation and emphasized its importance as the first line of defense in the fight against, not just COVID-19 but other infectious diseases.