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Better hand hygiene could cut mounting toll of health care-linked infections – UN

Better hand hygiene could cut mounting toll of health care-linked infections – UN

With some 1.4 million people suffering from health care-associated infections at any given time, United Nations health officials are urging Latin America and Caribbean countries to join a global effort to improve hand hygiene and related practices in hospitals and care facilities to help reduce the growing number of deaths and illnesses.

“There are effective strategies to improve hand hygiene and other basic practices that, if implemented by PAHO/WHO [UN Pan American Health Organization and UN World Health Organization] member countries, will save lives and reduce the largely preventable burden of health care-associated infections,” WHO World Alliance for Patient Safety Chairman Liam Donaldson told a regional workshop today.

The workshop – Clean Care is Safer Care – in San José, Costa Rica, was convened to develop a regional strategy for reducing health care-associated infections, also called nosocomial infections, in the region through better hand hygiene and other improvements in infection-control practices, clinical procedures and surveillance. Participants include experts on infection prevention and control from 21 countries.

Most research on such infections has been carried out in developed countries, and less is known about the problem in the developing world. But data from Mexico indicate some 450,000 cases of health care-associated infection annually, causing 32 deaths per 100,000.

In one Guatemalan hospital, the cost of 116 reported cases of a single health care-associated pneumonial infection in one year was estimated at more than $200,000, or 160 times the cost of care for the same number of uninfected patients.

“Basic good practices of infection control still remain the most important thing for reducing health care-associated infections, and the first thing among those basics is hand hygiene,” the leader of the Alliance’s Global Patient Safety Challenge Didier Pittet said. “Most bacteria are carried by patients, and the most common way they are transmitted is by hands.

“Medical schools may not teach enough about it, but it is also a problem of health care systems. Overloaded doctors and nurses have to deal with too many patients at once and don’t have time to wash their hands. The solution can be as simple as always having alcohol hand rub at the point of care.”

Costa Rica is one of 22 countries that have signed on to the First Global Patient Safety Challenge since it was launched by WHO in 2005. With the theme “Clean Care is Safer Care,” the Global Challenge promotes improvements in blood safety, injection practices, water and sanitation, safety of clinical procedures and hand hygiene.

The workshop will provide feedback on a set of WHO recommendations on hand hygiene, adapting the guidelines to the needs of health care facilities in Latin America and the Caribbean.