Save lives, clean your hands”
The first time I heard about hand hygiene was in Geneva in 2006 at a meeting for patients’ champions organised by the World Alliance for Patients Safety. I have been involved in this cause ever since as healthcare-associated infections can be prevented through good hand cleaning. It is so important when we know that every year thousands of people die because of this.
I wanted to implement hand hygiene basic rules in Poland and other countries of Eastern Europe. At that time our patients were still passive, they could not imagine asking a healthcare professional to “please wash hands before you touch me.” Yet I realised I needed to talk with patients groups in hospitals, during workshops, etc. I tried also to translate the form about how to wash hands from English into Polish, but it was difficult because of the formal language so we just showed to patients how to do this properly.
I also joined the WHO campaign in 2009 “Save lives – clean your hands” to advocate for improved hand hygiene practices of healthcare workers. This period was amazing for me as hand hygiene is only the starting point of a wider need for patients’ involvement and better communication with doctors and nurses.
Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. There are also some simple tips on when and how to wash hands before, during, and after preparing food, before and after caring for someone who is sick, before and after treating a cut or wound, after using the toilet, after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, after touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste, after touching garbage etc.
A patient who knows about his/her treatment can understand how important hand hygiene is. We need to engage patient in the whole process, and not only washing hands. This is still not feasible today as patients’ organisations are involved in very few occasions, such as hospital’s anniversary for instance, but not as a real partner in solution.
I have once heard that our priority is to advance the health interests of the European and global community. For this to happen, policy-makers and stakeholders need to understand that a proper relationship between patients and medical staff is the focal point to achieve success in this field.
My tips for professionals and patients:
- Wash hands properly even if you think it is too much
- Wash your hands before your patients ask you to do that
- Use the sanitizer when you leave the room in the hospital
- Teach your children, parents, friends to wash their hands
- Always carry a sanitizer in your bag
Jolanta Ewa Bilinska leads the WHO-Europe’s World Alliance for Patient Safety and is President of the Patients Safety Foundation in Poland. She is the plenipotentiary Director for development and social communication in the biggest city hospital in Lodz. She also used to be a journalist for a Polish regional newspaper and a psychologist for many years as well.