Hand-washing key to preventing infections in hospitals and clinics - UN agency

Photo: UNECE

5 May 2013 – Hundreds of millions of infections could be prevented if health-care professionals, patients and their families, wash their hands with alcohol-based rub or soap and water before and after touching patients and their surroundings, the United Nations health agency today said marking Hand Hygiene Day.

“Health care-associated infections are a major burden around the world and threaten the safety and care of patients,” said UN World Health Organization (WHO) Envoy for Patient Safety, Liam Donaldson. “I urge the health care and patient communities to take firm and decisive action to save lives from this preventable harm.”

The WHO global campaign “SAVE LIVES: Clean Your Hands” recommends that people wash their hands during five key moments: before touching a patient, before cleaning and aseptic procedures, after contact with body fluids, after touching a patient and after touching patient surroundings.

Since its launch in 2009, more than 15,700 health facilities with more than 9 million health workers in 168 countries have registered with the campaign, according to WHO.

“Health care-associated infections usually occur when germs are transferred by health-care providers' hands touching the patient,” the UN agency said, often leading to significant physical and psychological suffering and sometimes death of patients, and financial losses for health systems.

Of every 100 hospitalized patients, at least seven in developed and 10 in developing countries will acquire a health care-associated infection, according to UN figures. Among critically ill and vulnerable patients in intensive care units, that figure rises to around 30 per 100.

Hundreds of millions of patients every year are affected by health care-associated infections, WHO reported. The most common include urinary tract and surgical site infections, pneumonia and infections of the bloodstream.

“More than half of these infections could be prevented by caregivers properly cleaning their hands at key moments in patient care,” according to the Geneva-based agency.

According to a new survey conducted by WHO and its Collaborating Centre on Patient Safety, the University of Geneva Hospital, patient participation is considered a useful strategy for improving hand hygiene and creating a positive patient safety climate in the facilities implementing it.

Patients and their family members can participate by asking health workers who are about to touch them to clean their hands and thanking them when they do, and asking for information about any existing initiatives that involve patients at the health facility.

“Patient participation can be a powerful tool to achieve improvements in health care,” said Dr. Benedetta Allegranzi, team lead in the WHO Patient Safety Clean Care is Safer Care programme. “Although the ability of patients to be involved will vary in different cultures and situations, family members of patients often help with caregiving and they are some of the best advocates for their loved ones. That makes them good allies in this process.”


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