Patient participation encourages hand hygiene

Hospital-acquired infections are common across the WHO European Region. On average, 7.1% of patients in health care facilities in the European Union acquire at least one hospital infection during their stay. Every year, over 4 million patients acquire such infections. These result in 16 million extra days in hospital per year, account for an estimated 37 000 deaths and contribute to a further 110 000. Data for countries in eastern Europe and central Asia are not available, but levels in developed and developing countries are on average up to twice those in highly developed countries.

Improving hand hygiene in hospitals and other health care facilities is key to curbing hospital-acquired infections. WHO has identified five factors that contribute to improving hand hygiene among health care professionals:

  • system change: providing alcohol-based handrubs at point of care, and continuous access to a safe water supply, soap and towels;
  • education and regular training for all health care workers;
  • evaluation and feedback: monitoring facility infrastructure and health care workers’ practices, perceptions and knowledge of hand hygiene, and providing feedback;
  • reminders in the workplace; and
  • an institutional safety climate: ensuring individual workers’ active participation, institutional support and patient participation.

Significant progress could be made by enabling and encouraging patients to participate actively in their care, and specifically to ask health care workers about their hand hygiene. Further work is needed to ensure that the environment, timing and culture in health facilities encourage patients to ask, and health care workers to respond positively.

Save Lives: Clean Your Hands

WHO’s campaign seeks to improve hand hygiene among health care professionals. So far, 4659 hospitals in 41 countries in the WHO European Region are taking part.

The campaign takes place annually on 5 May. This year, efforts focus on encouraging health care facilities to use the WHO Hand Hygiene Self-assessment Framework, and to increase the number of participating facilities. As of 28 March 2011, a total of 12 622 hospitals and health-care facilities in 146 countries or areas had registered their commitment to hand hygiene as part of the global campaign.