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Hand hygiene is key to safe care and prevention of antibiotic resistance – PAHO

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4PRESS RELEASE – The lack of adequate and timely hand hygiene raises the risk of health care-associated infections and the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which risks patients’ lives.

As part of the SAVE LIVES: Clean Your Hands campaign, which takes place on May 5, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) calls for improved hand hygiene to prevent antimicrobial resistance.

“The fight against antibiotic resistance is in your hands” is the motto of this year’s campaign, led by the World Health Organization (WHO). It is estimated that 61% of health workers around the world do not sanitize their hands when necessary, and that 1 in 10 people contract an infection while receiving health care.

“Infections associated with health care represent the most frequent adverse occurrence in Latin America during hospital care,” said Jonas Gonseth-Garcia, PAHO/WHO advisor on quality I health systems and services.  “These can be avoided with hand hygiene,” he added.

To make it easier for health workers to clean their hands at the right time and in the right way, hospitals and health centers must make alcohol solution easily accessible, Gonseth-Garcia said. “They will help protect people from infections that often put their lives at risk.”

The five key moments for hand hygiene recommended by WHO are: (1) before touching the individual, (2) before performing a clean or aseptic task, (3) after the risk of exposure to body fluids, (4) after touching the individual, and (5) after contact with the person’s environment.

A threat to global health

Resistance to antibiotics is one of the greatest threats to global health, food security and development. Increasing numbers of serious infections are becoming more difficult to treat because of the loss of efficacy of antibiotics.

“Antibiotic-resistant bacteria prolong hospitalization, increase medical costs and, most worryingly, increase mortality,” said Pilar Ramón Pardo, PAHO/WHO’s antimicrobial resistance advisor. A measure as simple as hand hygiene prevents the transmission of bacteria, which is critical in health facilities. When new infections are prevented, the use of antibiotics is reduced and, consequently, the development of resistance is also prevented. “Cleaning your hands takes 20 seconds, but developing new antibiotics takes years,” Ramon Pardo said.

PAHO/WHO calls on policy makers to stop the spread of antibiotic resistance, making infection prevention and hand hygiene a national policy priority. It also calls for the implementation of essential WHO components for the prevention and control of infections, including hand hygiene as an effective measure to combat antibiotic resistance. And it advocates that hospital managers and managers maintain effective disease prevention and control programs associated with health care throughout the year to protect people.

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