The World Health Organisation (WHO) called for the reduction of inequalities in the availability of good hand hygiene and other Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) measures between high and lower income countries.
WHO made this call in a statement posted on its website on Wednesday in commemoration of the World Hand Hygiene Day celebrated annually on May 5.
It said that a new WHO online monitoring portal would assist countries identify and address these gaps.
The health agency said the call arose from the highlights of its global survey on implementation of national infection prevention and control programmes.
“This is a serious challenge at any time, but COVID-19 has dramatically demonstrated just how important good hand hygiene practices are in reducing the risk of transmission, when used as part of a comprehensive package of preventative measures.
“Good hand hygiene is also vital in preventing any infections acquired in health care, the spread of Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR) and other emerging health threats.
“Infection acquired during healthcare delivery is a major global health problem, but patients in low and middle-income countries are twice as likely to experience this as patients in high-income countries.
“The risk in Intensive Care Units (ICU), especially among newborns, is between two and 20 times higher,” it said.
According to WHO, a reason for this is that in some low-income countries only one in ten health workers practices proper hand hygiene while caring for patients at high risk of health care-associated infections in the ICU.
It added that this was often because they simply do not have the facilities to do so.
The health agency said that lack of financial resources and crumbling infrastructures were key challenges.
It said that the WHO national survey on 88 countries, showed the level of progress of hand hygiene and infection prevention and control programmes, especially regarding actual implementation, was significantly reduced in low- than in middle- and high-income countries.
WHO said that in 2018, only 45 per cent of low-income countries had a functional national IPC programme compared to 53 to 71 per cent of middle and high-income countries.
It said that a dedicated budget to support it was available in only five per cent of low-income countries, as opposed to 18 and 50 per cent of middle and high-income countries.
While national guidelines on IPC practices existed in 50 per cent of low-income countries and 69 to 77 per cent of middle and high-income countries.
It added that only 20 per cent and 29 to 57 per cent had implementation plans and strategies in low, and middle and high-income countries respectively.
The health agency said that overall, only 22 per cent of all countries monitored implementation roll-out and impact, adding that few countries have the capacity to monitor the IPC effectively.
“WHO‘s first ever IPC monitoring portal is a protected online platform for countries to collect data in a standardised and user-friendly manner and download their situation analysis following data entry along with advice on areas and approaches for improvement,” it said.
WHO said that healthcare acquired infections affect millions of patients and health workers worldwide every year.
It said that half of these infections could be avoided by implementing effective IPC practices and programmes, including hand hygiene improvement strategies.
The health agency said that such strategies could also prevent three out of four of the AMR-related deaths that occur in health care facilities.
It noted that investing in effective IPC strategies could yield significant financial returns, adding that implementation of hand hygiene policies could generate economic savings averaging 16 times the cost of their implementation. (NAN)