WHO Initiates Worldwide Campaign to Promote Hand Hygiene

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , May 6, 2009

The World Health Organization's (WHO) Alliance for Patient Safety Tuesday officially kicked off its "Save Lives: Clean Your Hands" initiative to encourage hospitals and healthcare facilities worldwide to raise awareness of hand hygiene to reduce often preventable healthcare-associated infections.

With the kickoff, the alliance has released a set of tools for system change, training and education, evaluation and feedback, workplace reminders, and institutional safety climate. The tools emphasize that healthcare providers and workers at all levels of experience should be familiar with the importance of hand washing and hand hygiene. The tools, along with a guide to implementation, can be downloaded for free from the WHO Web site.

WHO also has released a 270-pages of guideline designed for use by hospital administrators and healthcare workers that reviews current evidence addressing hand hygiene in healthcare. The guidelines, which have been in development since 2004, also are available at the Web site.

To date, nearly 4,800 hospitals in 117 countries have made formal statements to the WHO alliance pledging their support to implement actions to reduce healthcare-associated infections within their countries through better hand hygiene. In addition, these hospitals are being asked to share their experiences and expertise online on how to improve hand hygiene with other organizations around the globe.

Premier, a healthcare alliance with more than 2,100 hospitals and 54,000-plus other healthcare sites, has been promoting the WHO initiative to hospitals participating in its Quest performance and quality improvement collaborative.

"We want to piggyback on these efforts and say there is no tolerance: Not washing your hands is a never event," says Leslie Schultz, RN, PhD, who is Premier's director of knowledge transfer in Charlotte, NC.

Not surprisingly, Premier, which also promotes hand hygiene through its Safety Institute, has had "a lot of activity and a lot of education going out there" in light of the recent news about H1N1 flu (also called swine flu). In certain conditions, surgical masks may be appropriate, "but the foundation—the basic thing—is wash your hands, people," Schultz said.

The WHO initiative emphasizes the "five moments for hand hygiene" approach that defines the key moments when healthcare workers should perform hand hygiene. This approach recommends workers clean their hands: before touching a patient; before performing clean/aseptic procedures; after body fluid exposure/risk, after touching a patient; and after touching patient surroundings.

Recent data gathered by WHO shows that only about 40% of workers worldwide comply with the "five moments."

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at jsimmons@healthleadersmedia.com.

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