As far as the World Health Organization (WHO) is concerned, hand hygiene is literally a “global lifesaving action.” That’s according to the Web presentation, “Clean Your Hands: Stop the Spread of Drug Resistant Germs,” by Professor Didier Pittet. The professor serves on the Infection Control Programme & WHO Collaborating Centre on Patient Safety at University of Geneva (Switzerland) Hospital.
It was appropriate that the presentation was given today. May 5 is World Hand Hygiene Day. The WHO has, since 2005, used this day to focus on hand hygiene compliance in healthcare settings as a major strategy in combatting the spread of drug-resistance bacteria. That’s critical since antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a growing challenge to the healthcare community.
Hand hygiene is especially critical to reducing the risk of healthcare-acquired infections (HAI) in light of a related challenge.
The Growing Problem of Antimicrobial Resistance
AMR is caused by the overuse of antimicrobial medicine such as antibiotics. Organisms including bacteria, fungi, viruses and some parasites can, over time, build a resistance to antimicrobial medicines, including antibiotics. This resistant can build to the point where the medicine becomes ineffective and the infections persist, increasing the risk of infection spread to others.
Every time a resistant organism defeats a treatment, a new medicine must be produced, tested and released for general use. Unfortunately, the globe has seen a growing number of organisms that have defeated all medicines to date. This scary group is known as Multi-Drug Resistant Organisms, or MDRO.
Professor Pittet mentioned a book by Professor Dame Sally C. Davies, titled The Drugs Don’t Work, in which the author called AMR and MDRO “An alarming and irreversible crisis on the same level as global warming.”
It’s considered such a critical concern to the WHO that the organization has themed its 2014 Clean Your Hands campaign on the issue of AMR.
The Simple, But Highly Effective Solution
As formidable as the challenge of AMR and MDRO sounds, the solution is actually rather simple and logical: practice proper hand hygiene regularly, with soap and alcohol-based hand rubs (hand sanitizer), and at all appropriate times during patient care.
In tandem with hand hygiene compliance, the WHO feels that hospitals should reduce reliance on Surgical Antibiotic Prophylaxis (SAP), or the automatic use of antibiotics as a preventive measure following surgery—before infection has even been found.
The WHO maintains a focus on advocacy, awareness-raising and engagement on the issue of HAI and hand hygiene compliance. In that spirit, the organization established its “My 5 Moments for Hand Hygiene” program. This ongoing education campaign defines and reinforces the key moments in which healthcare workers must practice hand hygiene during the course of treating patients. The takeaway is, “It takes just 5 moments to change the world.” So far, 171 countries have signed up
Hand hygiene compliance makes a dramatic difference, both in terms of lives saved and healthcare costs reduced. For instance, one study found that an increase in compliance from 43.3% to 95.6% resulted in an 8.9% decrease in HAIs.1
Professor Pittet also mentioned a statistic that gets right to a hospital’s bottom line: While a 200-bed hospital incurs almost $1.8 million in annual MRSA infection-related expenses attributed to hand hygiene noncompliance, just a 1% increase in compliance would result in an annual savings of about $40,000.
In one specific case, a hospital achieved a 51% reduction in MRSA infections due to increased hand hygiene compliance—and saved the hospital $276,500.
Focus on Compliance
You can see that, as dire as the growing risk of runaway infections can be, the solution is hardly out of reach. As of three days ago, 17,036 hospitals and healthcare facilities in 171 nations or global regions have registered with the WHO initiative to boost hand hygiene compliance, Save Lives: Clean Your Hands.
Today, World Hand Hygiene Day, is the perfect time to reflect on the issue of improved compliance, and to do your own part. Whether you’re a healthcare worker, patient or visitor, insist that proper hand hygiene protocols be followed. For more information on the growing problem of AMR and MDRO, and the WHO response, check out these informative WHO websites at www.CleanHandsSaveLives.org and www.who.int/gpsc/5May.