Global perspective Human stories

Wash hands to curb infections, UN agency tells hospital doctors, health care workers

Wash hands to curb infections, UN agency tells hospital doctors, health care workers

Dr. Anders Nordström
At any given moment some 1.4 million people worldwide are ill because of infections acquired in hospitals, the United Nations health agency said today, yet one of the most powerful approaches to fighting the scourge is also the simplest: doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers need to clean their hands every time they see a patient.

“We can reduce these numbers dramatically, and more and more countries are showing they are ready to take action,” UN World Health Organization (WHO) Acting Director-General Anders Nordstrom stressed. “With the help of WHO and other partners these countries are laying the foundations for patients everywhere to receive cleaner, safer care.”

Twenty-two countries representing 55 per cent of the world’s population have signed on to the Global Patient Safety Challenge – Clean Care is Safer Care – since it was launched by the WHO World Alliance for Patient Safety in October 2005.

In developed countries, 5 to 10 per cent of all patients fall ill to infections acquired in hospitals, while in some developing countries as many as a quarter of patients may be affected.

Many countries have already substantially improved hand hygiene practices among health professionals. During a recent four-month hand hygiene campaign in Switzerland, for example, compliance with good practices increased 25 per cent among doctors and nurses working in two cantonal hospitals.

Based on the results of that study it has been estimated that the Swiss could avert 17,000 such infections each year if hospitals nationwide achieved comparable improvements.

“I urge countries throughout the world to follow the example of those who have already committed to ‘Clean Care is Safer Care,’” the chairman of the Alliance Chief Medical Officer for England, Liam Donaldson, said.

Hand hygiene remains the primary measure to reduce health care-associated infection and the spread of antimicrobial resistance, the leader of the Global Patient Safety Challenge and director of the infection control programme at Geneva’s University Hospitals, Didier Pittet said. “It enhances the safety of care across all settings, from complex, modern hospitals to simple health posts,” he added.