AH1N1 Scare Might Encourage Frequent Handwashing Among Pinoys

Posted: June 13, 2009 in commentary, current events
Tags: ,

With news about Pinoys confirmed of having the  H1N1 virus, the DOH is obviously strengthening their information campaign on prevention and detection around the country. Apparently still there are a lot of Pinoys who lack sufficient knowledge on the virus resulting in cases of paranoia. One reported incident happened in a public elementary school where even teachers (educators as they are) committed the mistake of concluding that one of their students was experiencing H1N1 symptoms. Another incident involved a person who volunteered himself in the DOH clinic because he thought he had the virus. When asked if he was experiencing sore throat, high fever, coughing, and all the other listed symptoms of H1N1, he said NO to all questions. His medical check-up also indicated that he wasn’t suffering from all those symptoms. What a case of acute hypochondria!

However funny they might have sounded to others watching the evening news, these incidents are for me evidence of how important other sectors are aside from the DOH in disseminating proper information about health matters, such as, H1N1. One thing which I find really necessary is an effort to reduce panic and increase awareness, which is something I find that broadcast media especially large TV networks have tried but failed. It has proven to be so difficult for these TV networks to distinguish the difference between sensationalism and fair, straight to the point reportage.

Of course this is better said than done considering the culture of Pinoys.

Recently, I realized that what I find really difficult to make Pinoys understand and inculcate would be the habit of handwashing for hygienic purposes. Suffice to say that most of us don’t actually wash our hands often than we should. Call it a hasty generalization if you will. I have no figures to back this up. But really, you know what I’m talking about.

Most foreigners (especially Americans) I’ve met have shared this observation about Pinoys often, not really as a racial slur but more like an honest observation. (Not that they are the cleanliniest bunch, but that’s another story). It has been part of our stereotypical habits. We don’t wash our hands often than we should. And even when we have taken to buying those alcohol-based handwash sold in every drugstore and pharmacy, we don’t really use them as often as we should. We only use them before and after we eat. Which really begs the purpose because still the best hygienic way is to wash your hands with soap. Period. And I wonder why nobody has emphasized this. Instead we hear news about schools having alcohol-based handwash in their restrooms instead of soaps.

But even the act of frequent handwashing with alcohol we have stigmatized ever so often. We hold grudges against politicians who often wash their hands with alcohol after the shaking hands of a crowd of followers. We call that person “arte” and “mata-pobre” or anti-poor because we seriously believe that a public servant shouldn’t be so iffy about shaking his/her constituents’ hands. We take the act personally even though we shouldn’t. Because come to think of it, that politician has been shaking hundreds of hands both clean and dirty, hands that possibly belong to the unhealthy, those who are suffering from whatever disease there is, or a possible carrier of a virus. And this politican should have a right to protect his/her health, right? But we begrudge that “maarte” person because we associate constant hand-washing with alchohol as bourgeoise or elitist.

Case in point is that of a congressman from Davao City who is now the speaker of some house (not naming him) who is said to have lost the mayorial bid some years ago because of some rumor saying that he frequently washed his hands with alchohol after shaking hands with people. I’m not a follower of this politician don’t get me wrong. In fact, as of the moment, I really am so against his recent actions. But going back to his case, the black propaganda against him banked  on some simple cultural quirk , yet was so powerful that it rubbed him of victory. Even more incredulous is the reason why people hesitated to vote for him. He just happened to have probably displayed himself washing his hands with alcohol. Perhaps if he had used soap, would it have resulted differently? That would be an interesting question to ask.

But really, aside from the recession, the constant fight against poverty, curruption and all the other ills our developing country experiences, we Pinoys are currently facing another cultural challenge, that can probably make us rethink, re-evaluate and change our concepts/perceptions about hygiene. And while the H1N1 is not that scary as we are told to believe (it hasn’t cause so many deaths yet), it has proven to be a virus that can spread fast as recent updates show. The good thing brought with  it I would like to add is that it might have probably helped us reconsider our views about frequent handwashing. On the other hand, it might also make consumers of us; dupes to multinational companies who take advantage of our collective hypochondria by selling supposedly preventive products and making millions in the long run.

Anyone’s health concern is another’s wealth. But that’s another story. Meanwhile, soap anyone?


Question: How long should one wash one’s hands?

Answer: As long as 20 seconds, same duration as singing “Happy Birthday To You”

  1. ligs says:

    A(H1N1) has infected as many as 1 million americans as of this month.

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