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Researchers find monitoring hand-washing could improve hygiene

Courtesy of Amy Pickering

Courtesy of Amy Pickering

Researchers from the Stanford Woods Institute for Environment have found that monitoring hand-washing practices could benefit global disease prevention efforts.

The study employed video and in-person monitoring at four public schools in the Kibera slum area in Nairobi, Kenya. Research associate Amy Pickering, the study’s primary author, emphasized the difficulties of collecting precise data and noted that – given that subjects were aware of the presence of monitors and camera – the intensity of effects witnessed may have been dampened.

“It’s difficult to measure accurate rates of hand-washing because people are likely to tell you they washed their hands even when they did not due to social norms around hand-washing,” Pickering said.

The research showed that students at schools equipped with soap and water were 1.3 times more likely to wash their hands under video surveillance and in-person observation than when under in-person observation alone.

Additionally, hand washing rates were found to be 23 percent higher in situations when children washed hands together, a phenomenon that researchers attributed to the psychological effects of peer pressure.

The study promises better-targeted efforts for hygiene in low- and middle-income countries.

“Hopefully video surveillance will be added to the toolbox for accurately measuring hand hygiene behavior, thus improving monitoring and evaluation of hand hygiene interventions around the world,” Pickering said.

Pickering emphasized the importance of new studies to verify the accuracy of the results of the experiment.

“It would be great to do a blinded study in which subjects were not aware of the cameras,” she said. “This will ensure that the captured behavior was not influenced by the presence of the cameras.”


Contact Nitish Kulkarni at nitishk2 ‘at’

About Nitish Kulkarni

Nitish is a Deputy Desk Editor at The Stanford Daily. He is a sophomore majoring in Mechanical Engineering, and he is interested in writing about technology and research.