Hand hygiene – a weapon in the war against antimicrobial resistance

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has been a topic that has exercised the minds of healthcare professionals for a number of years now. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), AMR is resistance of a microorganism to an antimicrobial medicine to which it was originally sensitive.

It goes on to say: ‘Resistant organisms – they include bacteria, fungi, viruses and some parasites – are able to withstand attack by antimicrobial medicines, such as antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals and antimalarials, so that standard treatments become ineffective and infections persist, increasing risk of spread to others’.

The subject has been highlighted over several years by European Antibiotic Awareness Day. This is a European health initiative coordinated by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), an EU agency tasked with identifying, assessing and communicating threats to human health posed by infectious diseases.

Each year across Europe the day is marked, during the week of November 18, by national campaigns on the prudent use of antibiotics. Prudent use means only using antibiotics when they are needed, with the correct dose, dosage intervals and duration of the course. To mark last year’s event, ECDC produced some very interesting infographics to illustrate the problems, and opportunities, which included the fundamental need to take hygiene precautions as part of infection control methods.

AMR can make the treatment of infections more difficult, creating a greater risk of death, and significantly increase the costs of healthcare. It’s therefore no surprise that WHO has chosen to base its 2014 Clean Your Hands global annual campaign around the issue of AMR. This year’s campaign, called ‘No action today; no cure tomorrow – make the WHO 5 Moments for Hand Hygiene part of protecting your patients from resistant germs’ – centred around a day of action in May and involved healthcare professional right across the world.

The risks posed by AMR make hand hygiene even more crucial in healthcare settings. Hospitals are well versed on the benefits of promoting good hand hygiene practice to staff and visitors – but the best results are achieved by providing ‘total solutions’ encompassing solid programming, products and formulations, combined with the WHO’s multimodal implementation programme. Hand hygiene solution providers, such as those involved in ‘Private Organisations for Patient Safety; (POPS) can then support this approach with effective education/communication campaigns, plus on-going support and training for staff.

Compliance with hand hygiene according to the ‘5 Moments’ is a subject that continues to spark great debate in hand hygiene, and it’s something I have written about here in the past. Having worked closely with acute healthcare facilities over the years to understand the barriers to compliance and the needs of healthcare workers, I understand that product efficacy is only part of the solution in helping improve patient outcomes.

The high frequency with which many healthcare workers have to use hygienic hand rub means that unless they can do so without damaging their hands, compliance will suffer. Giving healthcare workers access to products and systems that they actually enjoy using can only help towards achieving a greater success rate of reducing infections through compliance.