ON pages 10 and 18 of the book, AWO, The Autobiography of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, published in 1960, the author revealed the incredibly low level of hygiene in his Ikenne community around 1920.
Awo wrote: “In a society where most people did not have anything at all like a bath more than half-a-dozen times in a year, the Christians were in a class by themselves.
“They cultivated the habit of having a really good bath, and of putting on their best apparel, at least every Sunday…. Father’s chief quarrel with me was that I was extremely untidy. I liked to be left alone without a bath.”
Sadly, today, after a hundred years, the level of hygiene has not improved much for many in our society.
Millions of naira are being spent in campaigns to teach people basic hygiene like handwashing, especially since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
For many years, we have heard the truism that ‘clean hands save life’, but never before in the history of our world has regular washing of hands been made to be a daily habit on such a global scale.
If we all agree that health is wealth, as the pandemic has more forcefully brought home to us all, then we must not stop this laudable handwashing habit, even after defeating coronavirus.
A study conducted by the Harvard Medical School showed that 94 per cent of the dollar bills currently in circulation tested positive for having traces of faecal waste on them. Similarly, a large percentage of credit cards and mobile phones have tested positive for traces of faecal waste on them.
If the above statistics are derivable from a civilised society with high level of hygiene and healthcare systems, one can imagine what the result will be if such a study was to be conducted here.
All these, therefore, make stronger cases for us to permanently embrace the culture of proper handwashing since that is our first line of defence against the microbial contagion.
As someone asked in a post on the social media: “Nigerians are told everyday to wash their hands. When will someone tell them to have a bath?”
It is important this practice of hygiene is taken beyond mere handwashing to embrace the culture of wholesome hygiene, which includes thorough and regular baths.
Unfortunately, it appears we take these health precautions seriously only when we are hit by plagues such as Ebola and now COVID-19.
As has been hinted before, we must not stop this laudable handwashing habit and general hygiene practices after the coronavirus pandemic had been contained.
To do so is to ignore the time-tested axiom: Prevention is better than cure.