A pair of clean hands can save lives

New Delhi: Millions of patients admitted in hospitals in the country could recover faster if healthcare workers follow proper hand-washing routine, which helps in avoiding hospital-acquired infections, experts said.

These infections, known as healthcare acquired infections (HCAI), result in prolonged hospital stays, long-term disability and excess deaths, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has been observing May 5 as World Hand Hygiene Day since 2009.

However, lack of awareness about techniques of hand washing and the absence of resources in many hospitals in India keep healthcare workers from maintaining a proper hand hygiene routine.

"In India about 40-50 per cent of healthcare workers are unaware about proper techniques of cleaning their hands," said Indian representative to World Hygiene Council Narendra Saini.

According to Saini, "About 70 per cent of the general population are also not aware of this aspect."

WHO, as part of its campaign "Save lives; clean your hands" has prescribed that healthcare workers should clean their hands with soap and water before touching a patient, before asceptic procedures if exposed to the patients` body fluid, after touching a patient and also after touching patients` surroundings.

According to Saini, "The supply of soap and water is also not regular in many hospitals in the country, especially government hospitals."

"It is not just a matter of habit. In fact, there is no regular supply of water and soap in many government hospitals," he stressed.

Historically, the link between hand washing and the spread of disease was established in 1847 by Vienna gynaecologist Ignas Semmelweis.

Semmelweis was worried about the nearly 20 per cent deaths of women in Europe who delivered in hospitals.

But his insistence that all doctors and nurses dip their hands in chlorine water before helping women brought the post-natal deaths down to one per cent.

According to Didier Pittet of WHO`s "First Global Patient Safety Challenge, "Clean Care is Safer Care programme, over 1.4 million people worldwide are suffering from infections acquired in hospitals."

"Every year, people die or are considerably affected by diseases such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and other severe infections acquired during patient care," Pittet says.

In India, however, the numbers of HCAI affected people cannot be ascertained in the absence of a proper study.

"But the number could be very large," said Saini.

He pointed out that proper hand washing routine is maintained only in hospitals accredited by the National Accreditation Board for Hospital and Healthcare Providers.

However, at present only 73 hospitals in the country are accredited.

"Rest of the hospitals does not have very much functional infection control committees," he said.

"There should be a proper infection control committee headed by a microbiologist in every hospital for monitoring the level of hospital acquired infections," he suggested.

According to WHO, the number of healthcare-associated infections at any given time are 15.5 per 100 patients and up to 31 per cent of patients undergoing surgical procedures get surgical site infections.


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