Global Interconnectedness Through Washing Our Hands

Published by International Association for Music and Medicine on

Music is bringing value to “virtually” every aspect of COVID management and containment. While performances and rehearsals are delayed/postponed/cancelled, technology venues are maximized to engage us in a “modified” musical world. Music is helping us psychologically, physically and intellectually. But who knew? Music is also helping us wash our hands…

Hand washing is key to management and containment of the virus. Historically hand washing compliance has been an issue even in the science/medicine world. Now we are asking everyone including very young children to make a routine out of a previous chore. Bringing this to light is a recent paper by Thampi et al (1) in which the approach to compliance by pairing a song with the washing technique is reinforced and an international perspective presented. 

In this paper the authors look in particular to the recommended World Health Organization (WHO) six -step technique and how to bring that to a global cohort. They previously described use of the musical mnemonic “Brother John” as a memory aid (2).  (Interestingly this work was published before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. The urgent need to make this internationally accessible hastened the next step in this effort). They point out that “Brother John” is a widely known tune internationally, has simple repeat patterns, an easy vocal range for children and the duration is appropriate. Because the melody is so familiar, an opportunity to collaborate internationally with other music scientists, educators and health professionals was achieved. The end result is that there are 28 (now 30 since time of publication) translated versions available covering languages from five continents. The authors highly value this global interconnectedness and have made these songs as well as the article available online at:

We at IAMM value such collaborative efforts and the authors invite us to contribute any of our translation skills to the cause.

  1. Thampi N, Longtin Y, Peters A, Pittet D, Overy K.  It’s in our hands: a rapid, international initiative to translate a hand hygiene song during the COVID-19 pandemic (published online May 6, 2020). J Hosp Infect 2020 Jul; 105 (3): 574-576. Doi: 10.1016/j.jhin.2020.05.003
  2. Thampi N, Villeneuve LN, Longtin Y. Wash your hands. Brother John! BMJ.2019;367: 16050

Author: Karen Johnston, MD, Ph.D


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