Egypt celebrates Hand Hygiene Day: The simple step that could save 8 million lives a year

Ingy Deif, Monday 8 May 2017

The World Health Organization sheds light on the immense benefit of washing hands and the challenge of antibiotic-resistant infections


In a world were infections are on the rise, a simple behaviour like regularly hand washing can reduce incidence of infection in hospitals by a whopping 50%, saving the lives of 8 million each year, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Each year, 5 May is celebrated worldwide by WHO as Hand Hygiene Day. 

On this occasion the United Nations Information Centre in Cairo, in cooperation with WHO, held a media briefing to shed light on a campaign titled Wash Hands, Save Lives.

The campaign emphasises the importance of hand hygiene for decreasing infection rates, especially at medical facilities.

Wash Hands, Save Lives is also part of an overall push to combat the increasing resistance of many bacterial infections to antibiotics.

WHO on Hand Hygiene Day, Egypt( photo by :AhramOnline)
WHO on Hand Hygiene Day, Egypt( photo by :AhramOnline)

"We face a huge challenge posed by infections that developed a resistance over time to existing antibiotics, often due to excessive use and misuse [of the drugs]," said Dr Rana Hajjeh,  director of the Division of Communicable Disease Control at WHO.

"In this context, WHO follows many strategies, one of which is decreasing the rate of infections occurring in medical facilities as a result of improper hand hygiene," Hajjeh said.

To clarify the extent of the problem, Dr Mondher Letaief, a technical officer at WHO, pointed to several facts:

·       Millions of people all over the world are affected by the transmission of infections at health care locations, and particularly by medical personnel.

·       Of those undergoing surgery, 32% contract an infection afterwards due to poor hygiene.

·       Out of every infection case, 51% are antibiotic resistant.

·       The rise of drug-resistant infections is alarming, with more and more type of antibiotics becoming useless. In the last two decades, the availability of effective drugs to replace these obsolete ones has declined steadily.

·       Failure to address antibiotic resistance could result in 10 million deaths by 2050, which exceeds the number of fatalities resulting from any other disease. The cost is estimated to exceed USD 66 trillion.

WHO has cooperated with the Ministry of Health in Egypt to raise awareness among medical staff about the importance of washing hands before and after touching the patient, before sterilising equipment, and after being exposed to bodily fluids.

Dr. Hajjeh said that challenges still loom.

"A recent study in 2015 showed that the annual cost of antibiotic resistant infections in the US has mounted to USD 30 billion. Although equivalent data is not available in Egypt, it is assumed that the cost is comparably high," she said.

"We must also note that antibiotic resistance comes from the food we consume; we're working hard with Egyptian authorities to implement deeper monitoring and surveillance of the use of antibiotics in food.

"Additionally, more antibiotic stewardship must be implemented. This means that a committee in each hospital should monitor the prescription of antibiotics to patients, especially for new drugs that need to be protected against resistance," she said.

Hajjeh added that although a prescription is legally required to purchase antibiotics at Egyptian pharmacies, it is not implemented properly.

"Today, as we celebrate World Hand Hygiene Day, we raise awareness that such a simple act could massively decrease the risk of infection and prevent the excessive use of antibiotics, especially in medical facilities and hospitals," she concluded.

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