By Gift Briton

As the world commemorates hand hygiene day on May 5th, the World Health Organization(WHO) has encouraged civil society organizations (CSOs) to spearhead and accelerate effective hand hygiene practices in communities and healthcare facilities.

According to WHO most healthcare-associated infections are preventable through good hand hygiene practices – cleaning hands at the right times and in the right way. However, the majority of people and healthcare facilities – particularly in Africa- still lack basic hand hygiene and sanitation services and practices.

Over 60% of the African population has no access to basic water, sanitation services and hygiene services. In East and Southern Africa particularly, almost half of the people have no access to basic drinking water.  Health workers and patients in these regions have been greatly affected by emerging and re-emerging infections in recent months.

Speaking during a media dialogue for commemorating world hand hygiene day, Dr. Landry Kibago, team lead for WHO’s Africa Region Infection Prevention and Control, pointed out that CSOs can play a critical role in ensuring that communities and health workers take ownership of hand hygiene practices.

According to the medical virologist, driven by their values and strong social justice agenda including proximity to the communities they serve, CSOs can spearhead and accelerate change at local, national and international levels.

“Hand hygiene is not a luxury but a smart investment with exceptional returns on every dollar invested. Studies have shown that hand hygiene with soap in healthcare facilities is cheap compared to the cost of treating the infections or the days lost due to diseases,” he said.

“Investing in hand hygiene in healthcare facilities will result in fewer healthcare facility infections and as a result reduce the general cost of healthcare. Strong engagement between communities, health workers, policymakers and civil society organizations is a major requirement to achieve these goals.”

Dr. Kibago further noted that CSOs can educate communities on the risks of inaction and let them see hand hygiene as a shared responsibility where protecting oneself is protecting everybody else.

He noted that some of the strategies to ensure effective hand hygiene in healthcare facilities include putting in place policies and guidelines around hand hygiene while providing necessary training to health workers on hand hygiene guidelines

Also, monitoring the implementation and making sure that each health worker practices proper hand hygiene when needed as well as putting in place some communication tools about hand hygiene including flyers at the points of care and reinforcing the culture for hand hygiene.