WHO/Europe launches new guidance to make hand washing easier

WHO/Europe, 5 May 2021

On World Hand Hygiene Day 2021, WHO/Europe calls on decision-makers, hospital managers and health-care workers to enable and adopt effective hand hygiene at the point of care. Across the WHO European Region, on any given day, about 80 000 – or approximately 1 in 18 – patients have at least 1 health-care-associated infection in a hospital.

Good hand hygiene practices are an important and straightforward way to help prevent the transmission of infectious diseases, as part of a comprehensive package of public health and infection prevention and control (IPC) measures. This campaign is exceptionally important today in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. To protect ourselves and others, cleaning our hands must become a lifetime habit.

Health-care workers have come under intense pressure over the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic, treating large numbers of patients. Enabling and encouraging health workers to take a few seconds and clean their hands before every patient can make all the difference to their overall safety. This helps avoid unnecessary infections, which may prolong hospital stays and, in extreme cases, prove life-threatening.

Guidance to shape hand hygiene

To help make hand hygiene a more practical reality for life, WHO/Europe has launched three aide-memoires or focused improvement tools, that highlight the role that health-care workers, IPC experts and hospital managers play in achieving effective hand hygiene.

These tools will support the transforming of IPC guidance into action, aiming to ensure that local improvements associated with evidence-based IPC recommendations – including for COVID-19 and influenza, among other infectious diseases – can reliably be put in place.

The aide-memoirs cover three specific areas:

  • respiratory and hand hygiene;
  • personal protective equipment (PPE);
  • environmental cleaning, waste and linen management, and all elements of standard, droplet/contact and airborne precautions.

By providing checks, concerned with engaging and empowering IPC focal points and other leaders to take a range of actions, these aide-memoires seek to sustain improvements in practices. They utilize strategies that have been shown to work and help to meet the WHO “Guidelines on core components of infection prevention and control programmes at the national and acute health care facility level”.

Seconds save lives

“Seconds save lives – clean your hands”, is a global campaign calling on everyone – from decision-makers, hospital managers and health-care workers to the general public – to make hand hygiene a straightforward lifetime habit.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of hand hygiene for everyone, a simple action that can limit the spread of respiratory and other infections. Alongside measures such as physical distancing, mask wearing, opening windows while indoors and vaccination, good hand hygiene helps keep people safe and healthy during the pandemic.

Despite an increased global effort, hand hygiene remains poorly practiced in many health-care facilities, with a compliance rarely exceeding 70% in high-income countries. In outbreaks such as COVID-19, instead of serving as points where disease can be controlled, health-care facilities in some countries have become places where outbreaks may occur. This is, in part, due to a lack of resources, such as availability of alcohol hand-rub and access to water and soap.

To address this challenge and sustainably improve hand hygiene practices, WHO has initiated online IPC trainings on the OpenWHO platform, enrolling nearly 100 000 individuals in countries of the European Region, with the course on hand hygiene being the most popular.

Better health and well-being

A core part of the European Programme of Work 2020–2025 – “United Action for Better Health in Europe” is ensuring that more people benefit from better health and well-being, as well as being better protected and prepared for health emergencies. This includes ensuring that people are able to access quality health care in their communities.

Patient safety and quality of care are central to this vision. Alongside the Greek Minister of Health, the WHO Regional Director for Europe, Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, recently opened a new Sub-office for Quality of Care and Patient Safety in Athens. The hub will serve as a centre of excellence, helping strengthen patient safety and promoting best practice across the Region.


Infection prevention and control – Guidance to action tools (2021)
World Hand Hygiene Day 2021
Sign up for SAVE LIVES: clean your hands campaign
WHO 2020 recommendations for universal hand hygiene in health care facilities
Your 5 Moments for Hand Hygiene
How to Handwash and Handrub
Year of Health and Care Workers 2021

Original article here.

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