To aid the fight against Covid-19, Siem Reap-based Eco-Soap Bank (ESB), a non-profit organisation which is on a mission to provide soap to as many children as possible, last month gave out over 6,500 bars of soap to 80 organisations and schools.
“The current public health emergency around the world makes the need for hygiene standards stronger than ever, so we are working harder to get lifesaving soap into more hands,” says ESB founder and executive director Samir Lakhani.
Lakhani, who in 2014 volunteered in a village in Siem Reap and later founded ESB, told The Post by email that washing hands with soap has been proven to reduce the presence of harmful bacteria by 92 per cent, according to researchers at the National Institute of Health.
“Every year, we provide soap and hygiene education to over a million people to prevent diseases like pneumonia, cholera, Ebola, and now, Covid-19,” says Lakhani, a graduate from the University of Pittsburgh.
“Sometimes, the simplest acts make the biggest impact. This is the moment to raise awareness and save lives,” he says.
While simple practises, such as washing hands with soap, can prevent a lot of infections, Lakhani says many Cambodians, particularly in villages, do not have easy access to something as basic as soap.
Cambodia, he says, also lacks enough hospitals and health facilities to cover the 16 million people that live in the country.
“Our long-term goal, in countries like Cambodia, is to focus efforts on prevention – rather than treatment – to save as many lives as possible,” says Lakhani, who was named one of CNN’s Heroes in 2017.
Lakhani recently asked a World Health Organisation official stationed in Cambodia about her opinion of the health system in the Kingdom. She replied: “These hospitals and clinics would look totally different if everyone just washed their hands.”
Lakhani says that researchers in London have found that if everyone routinely washed their hands, over a million deaths could be prevented worldwide every year.
“Improving our hand-washing is our best bet to prevent the spread of Covid-19,” he says.
While there is no cure available for Covid-19 at the moment, people can still do their part to prevent the spread of the disease and protect themselves.
Lakhani says Covid-19 is transmitted from person to person through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or via contact with contaminated surfaces or objects, according to studies conducted by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Some 80 per cent of illnesses are transmitted through the hands. While hand-washing signs and posters are nearly ubiquitous in our society, according to a study by researchers at Michigan State University, only five per cent of bathroom users washed their hands correctly.”
Lakhani believes teaching people how to wash their hands properly is essential. He gives us some recommendations to stay safe amid the current outbreak.
“Everyone knows oil and water don’t mix, but soap fixes that. Germs are mostly found in oil that occurs naturally on hands and body.
“Soap molecules directly attach themselves to oil and suspend it in water, allowing the oil and germs to be rinsed off. Soap does not kill germs but rather removes them effectively if you are washing your hands correctly.
“Make sure that you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with lather and without forgetting important areas like the fingers and under the fingernails. Don’t forget your wrists either,” says Lakhani.
The CDC recommends avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth; covering your mouth when you cough; cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects or surfaces, and washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
The soap that ESB donates to organisations and schools is made from soap collected from hotels and guesthouses. These soap bars are cleaned, sterilised and dried in the sunlight for a few days. The soap is then whittled and grounded into a powder after having been separated by colour.
Lakhani says he was inspired to take action against bad hygiene practises after he saw a Cambodian woman bathing his child with detergent.
“We are proud to have started this global movement in Cambodia,” Lakhani says, adding that the programme has spread to Laos, Nepal, Lebanon, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Swaziland and Sierra Leone.
In total, ESB has donated over 125 tonnes of soap since 2014 – the equivalent to the weight of a blue whale – which would otherwise have been sent to landfills.
“Our mission at ESB has always been on preventive care that has the power to help stop the spread of fatal infectious diseases like Covid-19.
“Reach out to us to receive Eco-Soap! Our team is ready to make hand-washing with soap even more accessible during this time of crisis,” Lakhani says.
You can request soap from ESB on their website: https://ecosoapbank.org/partners/request-soap/.
Lakhani says ESB is donating 50 soap bars to NGOs and schools in Cambodia. Those interested in receiving the soap can call the organisation at 085 501 286; 081 383 731; 070 661 760 or 096 680 3099.