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Turn This Year’s New Year Resolution Into A Hand Hygiene Revolution

Jason Tetro
December 17, 2013

Hand Hygiene 2014As we draw closer to the end of the year, many of us begin to start scribbling down aspects of our daily lives that we would like to change.  Some may want to lose weight.  Others will want to exercise more.  Others still will want to abdicate a bad habit.  Collectively, these decisions are the annual New Year’s Resolutions and they have become as common as the singing of “Auld Lang Syne” at the stroke of midnight.


The annual practice of ‘resolution’ is cemented in history, beginning with the Babylonians some 4,000 years ago.  Back then, borrowed items were returned and neighbours once again found harmony in their co-existence.  In 153 BC, the two-faced Roman god, Janus, was placed at the head of the calendar, offering those a chance to reflect on the past and look forward to a better future.  The ritual was formally introduced back in 1722, when the American theologian Jonathan Edwards ‘resolved’ to act differently in the new year.  And the always entertaining Mark Twain said in 1863 that New Year’s Day “is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions.”  He also mentioned in his notorious way that within a week, they would most likely be disregarded.


As Twain implies, resolutions can be great fun to declare, yet they are not quite as easy to keep.  In the 1980s, addiction researchers looked into this phenomenon and found that there were several factors involved in the poor adherence (read: compliance) to the stated goals.  For the most part, there was a lack of proper willpower on the part of the resolver and a turn towards wishful thinking and negative self-feedback when slips occurred.  But that wasn’t the entire problem.  It turned out that in most of the cases of failure, there was a lack of a support structure and appropriate planning within the group to help ensure the goal was achieved.  This led the American Psychological Association to suggest that support is as important as the actual acts themselves.  In essence, the resolution had to turn into a personally-led revolution in order to succeed.  With everyone working together, the objective is attained.


The lessons learned from the simple-turned-complex nature of the New Year’s Resolution have significant parallels with the efforts of hand hygiene champions.  While there continues to be a drive and intent to improve compliance, there never seems to be long-lasting success.  This hindrance has become almost too common and in some cases, led to campaign fatigue.


The reasons for a lack of adherence are numerous although a closer inspection reveals that they are not unmanageable.  What is needed is a proper plan that everyone agrees will work, a global mentality to achieve the goal and most importantly, a support structure that is comprised not only of healthcare workers, but also patients, visitors, corporations, government and healthcare leaders. 


This can only occur, however, if the system in place promotes positivity and the pledge to bring not only action but also faith for the future.  As Eric Hoffer points out in his incredibly useful book, The True Believer, this is not only the creation of a mass movement, but a revolution.  Right now, hand hygiene needs exactly that.


Soap DispenserWith 2014 approaching, we need to change the landscape from one of worrisome skepticism to one of optimistic belief.  We need to turn knowledge into action not through programs and campaigns that wither and fade but revolutionary ideas that can be long term and fun.  For example, consider taking a page from Movember although instead of a moustache in May for Hand Hygiene Day, grow a soul patch.  After all, hand hygiene calms the soul; why not show it off.  Or utilize the ‘flavour of the month’ mentality and bring colours to the soap dispensers.  This could line in nicely with other coloured months such as red in February and yellow in April.  Regardless of the activity, if it engages the community to act as one revolutionary entity, it will succeed and more importantly stay.


This year, resolve to be a member of the hand hygiene revolution and use this blog as the lynchpin.  Share your thoughts, your passion, your suggestions and actions such that everyone worldwide can play a role.  Eventually, as the support grows and the commitment gets stronger, hand hygiene will become not just a mandatory practice, but a revolution that will end up standing for positive change in all healthcare.


About Jason Tetro

Jason TetroJason Tetro is a microbiologist who has spent the last 25 years learning about the effect germs have on our lives. He has a number of publications in peer-reviewed journals and written for a wide range of media including Scientific American and The Huffington Post to name a few. His book, entitled "The Germ Code" (Random House/Doubleday) is now available.


Jason is also a social marketer for health and hygiene. Known as the "Germ Guy", he has been featured in a number of television broadcasts and has over 12 million views in various media. You can learn more about Jason at the following link.

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