WHO Says Clean Hands Save Lives: Educating on the Importance of Hand Hygiene for World Hand Hygiene Day

In today's fast-paced world, where diseases and infections spread alarmingly fast, proper hand hygiene is more crucial than ever. Failure to maintain proper hand hygiene can have serious consequences, leading to the spread of infectious diseases such as COVID-19, norovirus, and influenza. One organization in healthcare stands out as a global leader in disease prevention and health promotion: the World Health Organization (WHO).


The WHO stands by a mission to achieve the highest possible level of health for all people. The WHO tirelessly works towards ensuring that healthcare standards are upheld worldwide. They provide resources, guidelines, and training programs to healthcare professionals and the general public to ensure proper hand hygiene practices. They collaborate with governments, international partners, and non-governmental organizations to raise awareness and promote the importance of hand hygiene. The World Health Organization recognizes the importance of hand hygiene in preventing the transmission of diseases and has dedicated May 5th as World Hand Hygiene Day. This day reminds healthcare professionals and the general public about the significance of clean hands in maintaining good health.


Hand hygiene is pivotal in reducing healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), a primary concern in healthcare settings. According to WHO, HAIs affect hundreds of millions of patients worldwide, resulting in significant morbidity, mortality, and economic burden. HAIs are among the most frequent adverse events occurring in healthcare services; 136 million cases of healthcare-associated antibiotic-resistant infections occur worldwide every year.


Studies have shown that many people do not wash their hands frequently or adequately, spreading disease-causing pathogens. Simple and regular handwashing with soap and water for at least 40 seconds or using alcohol-based hand sanitizers that contain at least 70% alcohol can significantly reduce the risk of contracting and transmitting these infections.


Hand hygiene is a simple yet effective practice that involves cleaning one's hands to remove germs and prevent infection. It is a fundamental component of any infection prevention and control program. According to WHO, proper hand hygiene can reduce healthcare-associated infections by 30% to 50%. This not only saves lives but also reduces the burden on healthcare systems.


Dental healthcare settings, in particular, are highly susceptible to the transmission of infections. Dentists and dental hygienists often come into close contact with patients' saliva, blood, and other bodily fluids, making hand hygiene a critical aspect of their daily routines. By observing proper hand hygiene practices, dental care professionals can protect themselves, their colleagues, and their patients from the risk of infection.


The WHO highlights the Five Moments for Hand Hygiene as a guiding principle for dental healthcare workers. These moments include hand hygiene before patient contact, before an aseptic task, after body fluid exposure risk, after patient contact, and after contact with patient surroundings. Consistently applying these steps can significantly reduce the risk of healthcare-associated infections.


In addition to hand hygiene, WHO also highlights the importance of maintaining a clean environment in dental clinics. Ensuring the cleanliness of dental instruments, surfaces, and equipment is crucial to prevent the spread of infections. This includes proper sterilization and disinfection procedures, as well as the use of personal protective equipment, such as gloves and masks.


Apart from healthcare workers, Hand Hygiene Day reminds everyone about the importance of clean hands in our daily lives. We can significantly reduce the risk of infections by simple actions like washing hands before cooking or eating, after using the restroom, and after coughing or sneezing. We can protect ourselves and those around us by instilling good hand hygiene practices in our daily routines.


On May 5th; World Hand Hygiene Day, dental healthcare providers are encouraged to promote hand hygiene practices within their clinics, among patients, and communities. Sharing knowledge about hand hygiene and infection prevention and control is vitally important because it is a very effective way to stop the spread of disease. This can be done through educational campaigns, training sessions, and informative materials emphasizing proper hand hygiene. This education can empower individuals to participate in their oral health and overall well-being actively.


Hand Hygiene Day is a significant event highlighting the importance of clean hands in maintaining good health. Hand Hygiene Day allows individuals, organizations, and governments worldwide to join hands and raise awareness about hand hygiene. It reminds us that proper hand hygiene is a shared responsibility and that we all have a role in preventing the spread of infections. It reminds us that hand hygiene is crucial in healthcare settings and our personal lives. Remember, every handwash counts in the fight against disease.


Below are two charts/posters from The World Health Organization on proper hand hygiene:

WHO How to handwash with soap and water

WHO How to hand rub with alcohol-based hand sanitizer


Maryanne Ferree RDH, BS, PHDHP

Maryanne Ferree, BS, RDH, PHDHP, CDIPC from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is a registered dental hygienist with over 39 years of experience. She has ventured into many facets of dental hygiene, including clinical care, public health, and education. She is currently a clinical faculty member in the Department of Periodontics and Preventive Dentistry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine focusing her clinical teaching on Periodontal Instrumentation. She has been excited to step into the role of KOL and blogger to share her enthusiasm for infection control in the dental setting, OSHA compliance training, and periodontal disease therapy.


World Health Organization. (n.d.). World Hand Hygiene Day 2024. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-hand-hygiene-day/world-hand-hygiene-day-2024