WHO Celebrates Hand Hygiene Day

The agency urges patients to participate in hand hygiene to encourage overall safety.

Marking Hand Hygiene Day on May 5, the World Health Organization asked patients and their family members to join health care workers in practicing good hand hygiene. More than half of all health care-acquired infections "could be prevented by caregivers properly cleaning their hands at key moments in patient care," it reported.

The leading infections are urinary tract and surgical site infections, pneumonia, and bloodstream infections. Practicing good hand hygiene by using alcohol-based hand rubs or washing hands with soap and water, if visibly dirty, reduces the risk. "Health care-associated infections are a major burden around the world and threaten the safety and care of patients," said Sir Liam Donaldson, WHO's envoy for Patient Safety and former chief medical officer for England. "I urge the health care and patient communities to take firm and decisive action to save lives from this preventable harm."

According to WHO, more than 15,700 health facilities with more than 9 million health care workers in 168 countries have registered their commitment to good hand hygiene as part of the WHO global campaign, "SAVE LIVES: Clean Your Hands." The campaign has been running since 2009; 12 countries joined during the past year.

According to the WHO Clean Care is Safer Care Programme, when working with patients, hand hygiene should be performed at these five key moments:

  • before touching a patient
  • before clean and aseptic procedures (e.g., inserting devices such as catheters)
  • after contact with bodily fluids
  • after touching a patient
  • after touching patient surroundings

"Patient participation can be a powerful tool to achieve improvements in health care," said Dr. Benedetta Allegranzi, team lead in the program. "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."

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

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