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World Hand Hygiene Day: A reminder against complacency

Infection prevention and control
05 May 2021

World Hand Hygiene Day on Wednesday 5 May is a reminder of the important role appropriate hand hygiene plays in preventing the spread of illnesses – from the flu to COVID-19.

Dr Sally Roberts, clinical lead for the Health Quality & Safety Commission’s infection prevention and control programme, says it is important that the low number of COVID-19 cases in New Zealand does not make us complacent when practicing hand hygiene.

‘Hand hygiene is one of the most effective actions we can take to stop the spread of infections. With the Trans-Tasman travel bubble now operating and the approach of the flu season, hand hygiene remains crucial for us all.’

The World Health Organization (WHO) World Hand Hygiene Day theme for 2021 is ‘achieving effective hand hygiene at the point of care’. For those working in health care, this means adhering to the ‘5 moments for hand hygiene’: performing hand hygiene before and after contact with a patient or when performing a procedure and after leaving their surroundings.

Dr Roberts says the theme for World Hand Hygiene Day 2021 aligns with the Commission’s infection prevention and control programme’s targeted improvement initiatives.

‘The programme uses the WHO’s 5 moments for hand hygiene framework to help shift thinking and attitudes to health hygiene, so it is effectively practiced for every patient at all points of care. Patients and their whānau should expect hand hygiene to be practiced every time they interact with health care workers.’

Dr Roberts says World Hand Hygiene Day is also a good time to reflect on the health care system’s hand hygiene achievements.

The Commission’s latest Hand Hygiene New Zealand audit report shows 16 district health boards (DHBs) achieved at or above the national target of 80 percent compliance compared with 12 DHBs from the late 2019 audit period. Nationally, the compliance rate is 86.8 percent which is an increase from the previous compliance rate of 85 percent and continues the steady increase of compliance from 62 percent in 2012.

'We want to thank DHB and private surgical hospital infection prevention and control teams and all health care workers for their work to improve hand hygiene practice. They have continued to encourage the same vigilance around hand hygiene that we saw at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and ultimately, help prevent harm to patients,’ says Dr Roberts.

The Commission has curated a list of resources created by WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help mark World Hand Hygiene Day. This and further information about hand hygiene best practice can be found on the Commission’s website.