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May 5th is 'World Hand Hygiene Day'

For the third year in a row, 5 May will be 'World Hand Hygiene Day' – a global call to action by the WHO to further improve hand hygiene, around the world. We know well that every healthcare professional is aware of the importance to protect his/her hands. Still, surveys in the field keep revealing a lack of compliance, for numerous reasons.

Hospital-Acquired Infections (HAIs) affect hundreds of millions of patients worldwide every year. They lead to more serious illnesses, thus prolonging hospital stays, or, in the worst case, cause unnecessary patient deaths. Just to illustrate: in Belgium, 800 people die in traffic accidents each year, while HAIs kill 2,600 people per year. 

The mortality rate and the burden HAIs cause on a country’s healthcare budget, make these infections a case of concern for politicians, healthcare professionals and the general public alike. The World Health Organization (WHO) takes up its role in this issue. Its recent 270-page ‘guidelines’ document highlights how surveillance and prevention can significantly lower the number of HAI cases. A firm advocate of the WHO approach, Ansell invests in education, training and in raising awareness around the topic.

Hardly 50% compliance

Hand hygiene is the cheapest, most simple and most efficient way to prevent the transmission of harmful germs. Although the action is fairly simple, the lack of compliance is quite problematic: both the frequency and quality of hand hygiene fall short. The figures are indeed staggering: hardly 50% of all healthcare workers comply with all the hand hygiene rules. A recent study by Ghent University revealed that compliance depends on many different factors, such as the position held (nurses do better than doctors), gender (women are better than men) and, of course, the application (everyone complies after e.g. aseptic treatment). 

Lack of time, too much irritation and gloves!

The reasons for not properly disinfecting the hands, changing gloves in time, etc. are multiple, with arguments like ‘lack of time’, ‘forgot’, ‘washing causes irritation’ and ‘no need to wash my hands as I’m wearing gloves’ high in the top 10. Healthcare workers are indeed very busy people but hand hygiene is so crucial, both for their own health and that of patients, that the basic rules should be observed. Many of the above arguments urgently need negating. Disinfectant lotions, for example, instead of water and soap reduce the chance of developing contact dermatitis. And it’s crucial to highlight that the use of gloves does not replace the need for hand cleansing by either hand rubbing or hand washing.

Training at every level

Proper training and awareness campaigns are, therefore, crucial, at every level of the hospital staff. 

The WHO recommends healthcare workers clean their hands:

  • before touching a patient,
  • before clean/aseptic procedures,
  • after body fluid exposure/risk,
  • after touching a patient, and
  • after touching patient surroundings.
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