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Clean hands can prevent the spread of disease

7 May 2010 -- The WHO "Save lives: clean your hands" campaign invites healthcare workers, hospitals and organizations around the world to actively promote improved hand hygiene to reduce infections.

Transcript of the podcast

Veronica Riemer: You're listening to the WHO podcast and my name is Veronica Riemer. In this episode we look at how clean hands can prevent the spread of disease.

Clean hands mean safer health care. This is true in an intensive care unit in a sophisticated urban hospital, a crowded ward in a rural area, or a home in the developing world where a baby is being delivered. Outbreaks of infections, such as MRSA, are increasingly frequent in hospitals and health-care facilities everywhere. The influenza pandemic highlighted the necessity for hand hygiene as a key prevention measure.

The WHO "Save lives: clean your hands" campaign invites healthcare workers, hospitals and organizations around the world to actively promote improved hand hygiene to reduce infections. WHO's Director-General Dr Margaret Chan explains how a simple procedure can significantly reduce superbug infections and thus improve the health of patients.

WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan: Reports from Europe and the USA alone indicate that around 6 million patients are affected by such infections each year. This means extra illness, extra costs, and extra needless deaths. As a preventive strategy, clean hands among health care workers sounds like such a simple and straightforward measure, but this simplicity is deceptive.

In reality, what seems like a common-sense solution has required a vigorous scientific approach to understand how infections spread in health care settings, the role of cross-transmission by contaminated hands and environments, and the best ways to eliminate this risk.

Today we know for certain that a procedure that takes only 20 to 30 seconds can, when performed according to WHO recommendations, significantly reduce the harm to patients caused by health-care associated infections.

Veronica Riemer: In 2009, WHO issued Guidelines for hand hygiene in health care environments which have been distributed with a toolkit to both developed and developing countries around the world. Professor Didier Pittet, who leads the WHO "First global patient safety challenge: clean care is safer care" tells us how these visual aids are being used.

Professor Didier Pittet: These tools are aimed at improving patient safety at a vital point; which is the point of care. To facilitate action, the innovative WHO "My 5 Moments for Hand Hygiene" approach is proposed to help you to understand the right times to take hand hygiene action.

Veronica Riemer: The 5th May is a call to action. It is simple to remember 5, 5 - 5th of May every year. The 5 Moments for Hand Hygiene recommends health-care workers clean their hands:

  • before touching a patient;
  • before aseptic procedures;
  • after being exposed to a patient's body fluids;
  • after touching a patient; and
  • after touching the patient's surroundings.

On 5 May 2010, the WHO "Save lives: clean your hands" campaign celebrated its second annual global call to action. To date more than 11 500 health-care facilities from around the world have registered their commitment to improving hand hygiene, representing over 6.5 million health-care workers and 2.7 million patient beds. Dr Emese Szilágyi works at the National Center for Epidemiology in Budapest, an institution in charge of coordinating all the infection prevention and control activities in Hungary. Since 2004 the centre has been tracking surgical site infections rates. She tells us that infection rates in Hungary are significantly higher than in many countries in Europe and the US. The country has recently launched activities to improve hand hygiene in hospitals and health centres.

Dr Emese Szilágyi: The objectives of the campaign are first of all to raise awareness of the role and importance of hand hygiene in prevention of health-care associated infections. Then to improve knowledge of health care workers to perform correct hand hygiene and after to improve hand hygiene in Hungary. We use the tools provided by WHO: why, how, when. And we would like to make popular and familiar to each health care worker my five moments for hand hygiene and we also plan to print posters and leaflets on these.

Veronica Riemer: That's all for this episode of the WHO podcast. Thanks for listening. If you would like more information about the Clean Your Hands campaign, please see the links at the bottom of the transcript page.

For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.

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