- It is interesting the ways in which seemingly small movements by Muslim radicals to change, challenge, and render our societies chaotic by using our own laws and values against us, usually turn out to be global efforts. Such is the case with the current battle in our hospitals and clinics over common health care practices designed to keep us all safe. This time Islamic radicalism isn’t threatening only our legal and social structures – this time it’s our very health.
- It recently came to the attention of health officials at London Chest Hospital that Muslim health care workers, and visitors to Muslim patients, were refusing to wash their hands with the provided anti-bacterial gel dispensers before coming into contact with a patient. In the world of health care, this is extremely alarming: it is estimated that yearly in the U.S. alone, 1 in 20 hospital patients or some 2 million contract a bacterial infection while in the hospital; 90,000 die.
Required use of anti-bacterial scrubs and frequent hand-washing is in place in all Western hospitals. To put it simply, when any person refuses to abide by this measure, it puts patients at risk of illness and even death. So why did these people refuse to comply? Well, because the antibacterial “rub” contains alcohol – and that is forbidden in Islam. (Evidently infecting already immuno-compromised surgical patients is just fine in Islam.)
National Health Services assistant Theresa Poupa was at London Chest Hospital during a cousin’s stay, and spoke of her amazement at the situation she observed, “I could not believe it. The signs are large enough and clear enough but they just took no notice and walked straight into the ward. I was there almost every day for three weeks and I saw it repeated dozens and dozens of times. When I raised the matter with the nursing staff they just shrugged and said that Muslims were refusing to use the gel because it contained alcohol.”
Particular antibacterial agents contained in “hospital rub” guard against such bacteria – one such agent is isopropyl alcohol. It is non-fermented and evaporates upon contact with the skin. It is not consumed in any way during hand-washing.
Some bacteria have evolved to be resistant to penicillin-type drugs. Staph aureus, for example, exists in the nasal passages of 20-30% of the healthy human population. It is also on human skin much of the time. But if it enters a wound it can cause infection. In a person weakened from illness, it can lead to pneumonia, blood poisoning and toxic shock. It can kill.
When the World Health Organization got wind of the hand-washing problem a few years back, it discovered that the problem was not uncommon at other hospitals and clinics that employed Muslims throughout Europe, including some in the U.S. and Canada. And it saw that the proliferation of super-bugs infections in hospitals could be directly related to the refusal of some Muslims to comply with sanitation regulations. So the W.H.O. started a global campaign to educate hospital staff on the importance of various sanitation practices in stemming the spread of hospital-acquired infections. It put anthropologists on these task force teams specifically to address issues in religious/cultural non-compliance.
But here is the real surprise: hand-washing with scrub containing alcohol has been common in the Middle East for years! At King Abdulaziz Medical Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Dr. Ziad Memish is the Executive Director of Infection Prevention and Control. He is also a Middle Eastern representative on the World Health Organization’s task force on hospital cleanliness. According to Dr. Memish, even in Saudi Arabia – the “center of Islam” and a society run by Islamic Law – anti-bacterial rub dispensers are the norm. The same is true in other Gulf states. In fact, despite the institution of anti-bacterial sanitation throughout the region over several years, Dr. Memish can’t recall any reported inability to comply. He points out the alcohol prohibition makes no sense: the Qur’an specifically states that alcohol has medicinal virtues, and under such conditions its use is acceptable in Islam. Moreover, so many manufactured products in our world contain alcohol or involve alcohol in the manufacturing process – particle board, paint, drugs, cosmetics, household cleaners, plastics just to name a few – that to eliminate alcohol in the modern world is impossible.
Dr. Memish noted that objections come mainly from Muslims in Western Europe. “At the Medical Center in Riyadh, where most health care workers and almost all the patients are Muslim, alcohol-containing hand hygiene cleansers have been the standard of care for a number of years without encountering any resistance to their introduction.”
The issue of hand-washing amongst Muslim health care workers and visitors to hospitals remains a problem, and will continue to as long as ultra-tolerant members of PC western society refuse to confront it adequately. Where the problem has been brought to the attention of medical officials, it has been addressed, although some try to compromise by suggesting that access to “soap and water” be made easier for Muslim workers who don’t want to use the rub. However, in hospitals you don’t find bath soap – you find serious soaps with serious antimicrobial properties. These often contain some alcohol. Also, for hand-washing to be effective it must be done very thoroughly, fingertip to elbow, and for several minutes. Rubs were instituted specifically because they work instantly to kill bacteria; in a busy hospital, staff was more likely to comply with a quick procedure rather than one that required several minutes and had to be performed every time the staff person came into contact with a new patient. To suggest that Muslim workers are going to be any different is nonsense. Once dispensers of solution which required no water and no towels were introduced onto the medical scene, the incidence of bacterial infection diminished significantly – as long as hospital staff was consistently in compliance with sanitation protocols.
Another problem lies in getting well-meaning co-workers to confront and report those who defy the regulations. To do this they must overcome fears of being called “racist” or “bigoted”. They have to be supported by staff management in putting the health and indeed survival of patients before the religious preferences of a few workers who may accuse them of intolerance for Islam.
While we wait for such measures, super-bugs – like the flesh-eating bacteria that pops up about 15,000 times per year in U.S. hospitals – mutate into stronger and more resistant forms. Although the case in London called the problem to the attention of international media, this problem was large enough for the W.H.O. to take action two years ago. Dr. Memish says that objections are far more common with Muslims in the West than in the Middle East…yet Muslims who have been receiving surgeries and other procedures in Western hospitals for years have voiced no objection to alcohol-based solutions used in the course of normal care, or to prepare a patient prior to surgery, or to sanitize some instruments and equipment.
But suddenly it is an issue for radical Muslims, who find one more reason to inconvenience the West, to call attention to themselves, to refuse to integrate with societies which offer them privileges they cannot enjoy in their countries of origin. It isn’t an issue within Middle Eastern countries, which use the same methods of hand sanitizing – just in the West. Ulterior motives? I’ll let the reader do the math.