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Washing hands can prevent much more than just COVID-19

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Posted: Friday, May 7, 2021. 7:47 pm CST.

By Rubén Morales Iglesias: We’ve been washing our hands much more than we used to do before. But, we must not let up. The World Health Organization says that good hand hygiene helps in reducing the transmission of a whole host of diseases but recognizes that there is a disparity between high and lower-income countries.

WHO celebrated Hand Hygiene Day on Wednesday, May 5, and said it “is more important than ever, to help sustain the promotion of this basic but critical action.”

“This action, that takes just a few seconds, does save lives! WHO calls upon all key players around this slogan Seconds save lives – clean your hands!”

In a press release on May 5, WHO said “WHO’s latest global survey on implementation of national infection prevention and control programmes highlights the urgent need to reduce inequalities in the availability of good hand hygiene and other infection prevention and control measures between high and lower income countries.”

WHO pointed out that COVID-19 has shown us how critical handwashing is when used as part of a comprehensive package of preventative measure in reducing the transmission of a disease.

WHO said that while all of us should wash our hands well and regularly, it is particularly a major concern that the health care sector do so as well because infection “acquired during health care delivery is a major global health problem.”

WHO said that patients in low- and middle-income countries have double the probability of developing infections when compared to patients in high-income countries. It adds that the “risk in intensive care units (ICU), especially among newborns, is between 2 and 20 times higher.”

“One reason for this is that in some low-income countries only 1 in 10 health workers practices proper hand hygiene while caring for patients at high risk of health care-associated infections in ICU – often because they simply do not have the facilities to do so.”

The 2020 WHO Global progress report on WASH in health care facilities: Fundamentals first report said that 1 in 4 health care facilities around the world “do not have basic water services and 1 in 3 lack hand hygiene supplies at the point of care.”

The WHO national survey which was carried out in 88 countries showed that hand hygiene and infection prevention and control programmes (IPC) showed significantly less progress in low-income countries than in middle- and high-income countries. The latter have dedicated budgets to deal with these issues.

WHO describes IPC as “a practical, evidence-based approach preventing patients and health workers from being harmed by avoidable infections” but says “few countries have the capacity to monitor IPC effectively.”

Healthcare acquired infections affect millions of patients and health workers worldwide every year. Almost 9 million are recorded every year in Europe alone.

The following are WHO recommendations:

Health care workers: Now more than ever – clean your hands at the point of care!

IPC practitioners: Be a champion and mentor for clean hands at the point of care.

Facility Managers: Ensure hand hygiene supplies are available at every point of care.

Policy Makers: Invest now to ensure hand hygiene for all.

Patients and families: Help us to help you: please clean your hands.

Vaccinators: Clean your hands with every vaccine.

Everyone: Make clean hands your habit – it protects us all!

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