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Pink Means Disinfected – An Interview with Robert Hellmundt, Founder & CEO of Heyfair.

Today we join the rest of the world in celebrating World Hand Hygiene Day. As we face the COVID-19 pandemic, clean hands have never mattered more.

On the occasion of Hand Hygiene Day, each year the the SAVE LIVES: Clean Your Hands campaign of the WHO mobilises people around the world to increase adherence to hand hygiene and calls upon hand hygiene improvement globally. As the WHO is encouraging hand hygiene and behaviour change, a German startup Heyfair is joining their efforts with their visible hand disinfectant. We talked to Robert Hellmundt, Founder & CEO of Heyfair, about Heyfair’s product, hand hygiene and the importance of proper handwashing in these times.

1. Hand hygiene plays a very important role especially in the medical sector, as germs and pathogens are usually transferred over the hands. Therefore, a correct and neat hand hygiene is extremely important. But according to the WHO about 70 percent of the health care workers practice hand hygiene inadequately. That is where Heyfair comes into action. How are you proposing to change that?

People forget to disinfect their hands or do it carelessly because they don’t see any effect of their actions. This is a typical problem in hygiene and prevention in general. You can’t see the infection you may prevent, you can’t see the germs you may transmit, you can’t even see any effect of the sanitizer itself. That’s why the motivation to properly disinfect is usually low. So hospitals have to take a lot of measures and interventions to increase compliance. We aim to change that by making hygiene visible – with a temporary visible hand sanitizer. The product colors the skin intensely pink during application and disappears completely after about two minutes (barely noticeable after one minute). Because only correctly disinfected skin areas turn intensely pink, the users can see in realtime if they used enough sanitizer or missed some skin areas, as these are pale or colourless. In this case they can easily correct the error during application. No extra time needed. The users learn quickly: pink means disinfected. This increases motivation and compliance significantly, as everybody can see if their hands or the hands of colleagues, patients or visitors are disinfected correctly.

2. Where did the idea come from to develop a solution to one of the most pressing problem areas of the health system?

We learned in 2014 about the fact that proper hand hygiene can significantly reduce the prevalence of hospital acquired infections. But we also learned that it is quite hard to always disinfect correctly and that it is nearly impossible to reach and sustain high compliance-levels. Because of our background in visual communications we instantly saw the underlying problem: disinfection is an invisible and abstract process. So it is really unrewarding and tedious, especially as you have to do it consistently correct dozens of times per day, everyday. The solution to make the sanitizer visible, but only temporary, seemed just logical and natural to us at this point. People just want to see the direct effect of their actions. We just went out and tried to give exactly that to them.

3. The hand disinfectant’s colour is quite interesting: radiant pink. What is the story behind it?

After two years of research, funding and concepts we started development of some prototypes. We wanted the final product to be blue like the sky and our initial prototypes delivered on that feature. So we contacted some nurses and doctors and let them test what we created. The reaction was dismal: „Smurf hands!“ or „Carbon monoxide poisoning!“ Everybody hated our fresh blue colour, because it looked too unnatural. So we went back to the lab and tried other variations. In the end pink was the clear winner, as it looked more similar to our natural skin colour, but bright enough to get noticed fast.

4. The worldwide advocacy day for Hand Hygiene falls annually on May 5, and this year its importance is even more significant, as the world battles Covid-19. Do you have suggestions how to ensure compliance in these difficult times?

Compliance levels are probably unusually high right now, as everybody tries to protect themselves and others from Covid-19. Some of the actions we have seen appear to be a little bit headless and panicky, to be honest. That’s why I think there should be way more trainings in regard to profound and proven hygiene measures – especially now. We should also continuously work on basic hygiene knowledge and strive to implement new knowledge as fast and wide as possible into the daily routines of healthcare workers. An example for improvement in regards to hand disinfection: people still learn to use the „6 steps“, an unintuitive and outdated disinfection technique that nearly guarantees that people can’t disinfect their fingertips and thumbs properly. These important skin areas with high germ counts and most contact to the environment are often still contaminated after disinfection. It disappoints me a lot that the WHO still recommends this outdated technique.

5. In your opinion, what does the future of hand hygiene look like?

Mostly pink, I hope. 🙂

6. Lastly, what is your key message for World Hand Hygiene Day 2020?

Remember the 5 Moments, forget the 6 steps and training, training, training.