WHO Issues Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Healthcare


GENEVA -- To fight the spread of healthcare-associated infections, which take a high toll in human lives and affect hundreds of millions of patients worldwide each year, the World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners are launching the Global Patient Safety Challenge with the theme, "Clean Care is Safer Care." As part of the launch, an advanced draft of the WHO Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Healthcare is being made available, to encourage simple measures to prevent the spread of these infections.

Ministers of health and senior officials, technical experts and WHO are announcing a series of key actions to fight healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) which threaten hard-won gains in health and life expectancy. These infections are a global problem affecting both developing and developed countries.

According to a new publication of the Global Patient Safety Challenge, "Clean Care is Safer Care," at any given time, more than 1.4 million people worldwide become seriously ill from such infections. Between 5 percent and 10 percent of patients admitted to hospitals in developed countries acquire these infections, the report says. In some developing country settings, the proportion of patients affected can exceed 25 percent.

Added to the considerable human suffering is the economic impact of these infections. Studies in three OECD countries, one of which is a middle-income country, have shown that a total of $7 billion to $8.2 billion is lost by the three countries every year because of HAIs.

"WHO's World Alliance for Patient Safety has developed low-cost strategies to fight this global problem," said WHO director-general Lee Jong-Wook. "Implementing these strategies is the best way to prevent healthcare- associated infection and improve patient safety."

The Global Patient Safety Challenge, a core program of the World Alliance for Patient Safety, brings together the WHO Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Healthcare with ongoing actions on blood safety, injection and immunization safety, safer clinical practices, and safe water, sanitation and waste management. Simple actions contained in these low-cost strategies have also proven to be very effective in reducing the burden of infection.

Liam Donaldson, chair of the alliance, chief medical officer for England and chief medical adviser for the government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, said: "Patient safety is now recognized as a priority by health systems around the world. The alliance's program of work has brought an unprecedented level of commitment from countries, professional bodies and health consumers to the cause of making healthcare safer for patients. The first Global Patient Safety Challenge is addressing a vital area of risk. Healthcare-associated infection can be reduced and the prize is the potential saving of millions of lives worldwide."

For the past 12 months, more than 100 technical experts from around the world have participated in the development of WHO Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Healthcare. The guidelines will be finalized only after they have been tested in different healthcare settings in the six WHO regions. Hand hygiene, a very simple action, remains the primary measure to reduce healthcare-associated infection and the spread of antimicrobial resistance, enhancing the safety of care across all settings, from complex, modern hospitals to simple health posts.

In the case of a new influenza pandemic, the huge number of patients seeking care will pose a challenge to health services and greatly increase the risk of spread within healthcare facilities. The development of effective tools and resources to reduce transmission of pandemic influenza virus when providing heath care is an immediate need. Although transmission by large droplets when people cough or sneeze is considered the major route of influenza spread, transmission via contaminated hands may be a contributing factor. Therefore, in addition to other infection control actions, hand hygiene measures suggested in the present guidelines should be included among the essential measures for responding to pandemic influenza.

The Global Patient Safety Challenge aims to assist countries as they incorporate "Clean Care is Safer Care" at the center of their health agenda. It supports country efforts by raising awareness and commitment to prioritize responses to reduce healthcare-associated infection and promote preventive strategies. The Global Challenge is testing the implementation of the WHO Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Healthcare in six specific districts of WHO regions worldwide as part of the integrated package of actions in the areas of blood safety, injection and immunization safety, safer clinical practices, and safe water, sanitation and waste management.

A number of countries have succeeded in controlling the problem of healthcare-associated infection and decreasing the risks to patients in their health facilities. However, not all countries have been successful. There is a gap between the patient safety improvements that are possible and the improvements that are actually being made. "The gap arises because existing tools and strategies are not being implemented wisely and widely," said professor Didier Pittet, leader of the Global Patient Safety Challenge and director of the infection control program at Geneva's University Hospitals. "Whenever these strategies are used to prevent the spread of these infection, individual health settings can make dramatic progress."

The Global Patient Safety Challenge builds upon existing country efforts and initiatives to fight healthcare-associated infections. Reducing the spread of these infections will be a critical step toward enhanced and long-term safety in healthcare.

Source: World Health Organization


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