Essity Hygiene and Health Report 2023–2024: The Importance of Behavioral Changes and Preventive Actions
Advancing Health and Well-Being: Prevention for Preparedness in Hygiene and Health
Prevention for preparedness in hygiene and health
An important starting point for reducing the spread of infections is behavior change, both on the individual level and as a wider society. Good hygiene practices form the foundation for efficient prevention – allowing better well-being and health by preventing diseases from spreading through physical barriers and cleanliness.
As discussed in the previous Hygiene and Health Report, an overuse and misuse of antimicrobials along with a lack of access to basic hygiene services have led to the emergence of AMR, a significant threat to public health as it risks making previously curable illnesses life-threatening.1 At the same time, preventive measures such as hand hygiene, environmental cleaning and innovative solutions - weather in a health care setting or at home - needs more emphasis in fighting AMR.
The human cost of AMR is staggering. It is calculated that drug-resistant diseases could cause 10 million deaths annually by 2050.39 The cost of AMR to the economy is also significant. In addition to death and disability, prolonged illness results in longer hospital stays, the need for more expensive medications, and financial challenges for those impacted.
Building a lasting culture of hygiene practices
On the individual level, there is work to be done to ensure that good hygiene practices are followed both in society at large and within healthcare systems. The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of practices like good hand hygiene, coughing and sneezing etiquette to prevent disease spread. While the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that it is possible for populations to temporarily adopt good hygiene practices, it must be recognized that lasting behavioral changes take time. It is also vital that hand hygiene fatigue, with rigorous hand hygiene routines seen as unnecessary and ignored, must not become the norm. To do this, a holistic strategy is required that incorporates education, follow up, feedback, communication, and infrastructure improvements.
First, the necessary pre-requisite of access to hygiene services, materials and infrastructure must be met. During the pandemic, the use and production of hand sanitizer skyrocketed. It is equally important to secure access to basic hygiene products such as soap, clean water, and hygiene products, especially in places where they are most urgently needed, according to Michele Cecchini, responsible for the OECD program work on Public Health.
Education and hand hygiene training must also be made available to society at large. These efforts need to be advanced in all countries globally – many adults have not received any new information about hand hygiene since early childhood, according to Michele Cecchini. Since new habits take time to form, they must also be reinforced using supportive messaging and information, and training must be repeated. Feedback is also an important aspect of reinforcing new hand hygiene habits but is often a difficult component to implement. Repeated training, however, offers a good opportunity for this. Here, innovations that make hand hygiene training more interactive combine easy access to training with realtime feedback to help establish good practices.
There is a need for continuous engagement to ensure good hand hygiene practices become lasting. Such a behavioral change is not easy to implement but would have wide-ranging positive impacts on society’s well-being.