Hand-Washing Staves Off More Than the Coronavirus

Mongolia sees a 55.5% drop in common intestinal infections among children. Respiratory illnesses are down, too. Officials and parents credit the increase in hand-washing, and hope habits instilled during crisis remain for life.

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Hand-Washing Staves Off More Than the Coronavirus

Khorloo Khukhnokhoi, GPJ Mongolia

Javzandulam Purevjav and her children have made regular hand-washing a part of their day. Not only has the family stayed safe from the coronavirus, the children have also escaped regular colds, flus and intestinal infections that are common this time of year.

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BAYAN-UNDUR, ORKHON PROVINCE, MONGOLIA — The sounds of noisy children and running water echo from the bathroom in Javzandulam Purevjav’s home.

Javzandulam, a mother of four, says in the last few months she has increased the number of times per day she makes her children wash their hands.

She says she’s acting in accordance with the Mongolia Ministry of Health’s recommendation to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

“Before we used to wash our hands in the mornings and evenings only,” she says. Now, she says every member of her family does so at least five times per day.

Following the hand-washing advice has proven effective for them. During most winters, Javzandulam says her children get colds or the flu. So far, the family has escaped not only COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, but also common colds, flus and intestinal infections.

“This winter my children were not ill, whereas they used to get sick one after another,” she says.

And she’s not alone.

Across Mongolia, the rate of common intestinal infections among children dropped by 55.5% in the first quarter of 2020, compared with the same period last year, according to studies conducted by the Center for Health Development of Mongolia and the National Statistics Office of Mongolia. The primary cause of transmission, experts say, is unwashed, dirty hands.

“Citizens are complying with the Ministry of Health recommendation and making it a habit in everyday life,” says Suvdmaa Nyam, a senior doctor and head of the Early Warning and Response Unit of the National Center for Communicable Diseases. “This is contributing to the reduction of respiratory and intestinal infectious diseases.”

Mongolia has been effective in staving off the spread of the coronavirus, too.

The Mongolian government was among the first to implement widespread restrictions in response to the coronavirus in January, as the virus rapidly spread through neighboring China, and then across the world. The government has been sending daily text messages to citizens with reminders to wear face masks and wash their hands. Reminders are also broadcast regularly on every television channel. As of May 9, Mongolia had reported 42 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and no deaths.

Khulan Lkhagvadorj, a mother of three, says her children are now accustomed to washing their hands and using hand sanitizers.

“This habit is the simplest, yet most effective method to prevent various diseases,” she says.

Health care providers say they are noticing, and appreciating, the difference this year.

“This time last year, we had so many patients in our ward, and we did not even have time for tea break,” says Ul-Oldokh Lkhagvasuren, a nurse in the isolation ward of the Regional Diagnostic and Treatment Center of Orkhon, the province’s largest central hospital.

Despite the ongoing pandemic, she says hospitals aren’t busy.

“It is less busy and very quiet this year,” she says.

Even after the coronavirus threat subsides, Bilguunee Bayanaa, a specialist in charge of surveillance and prevention of communicable diseases at the Health Department of Orkhon province, says he hopes citizens have adopted new habits they will keep for life.

“If the citizens can make these habits part of their everyday life in the future, they can prevent respiratory and intestinal infectious diseases,” he says.

Otgoo Tsedendemberel, GPJ, translated this story from Mongolian.