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Hospital hygiene highlighted


A nurse washes her hands in a hospital. Government health officials and WHO representatives intend to establish a ‘National Hand Washing Day’ to help curb infections that result from hospital visits. Photograph: Reuters

Officials from the World Health Organization and the Cambodian Ministry of Health will meet today to set a date for a national hand-washing day to raise awareness of proper hand hygiene and curb infections resulting from hospital visits.

These complications – known as healthcare-associated infections, or HCAIs – are “deemed the most frequent adverse event threatening patients’ safety worldwide” and are three times more prevalent in developing countries such as Cambodia than in the United States and Europe, the authors of a study published in the medical journal The Lancet last year say.

“Healthcare workers play a big role in HCAIs,” Dr Chea Nora, a WHO technical officer for infection prevention and control, said. “By just making them comply with good hand-hygiene practice, the chance of HCAIs is decreased.”

Ministry of Health deputy director of the Department of Hospital Services Dr Sok Srun agrees, saying the ministry has a “strategic plan” in place to address the problem, but has yet to form a ground-level “operational plan”.

“We propose new activities for healthcare-associated infections, but we cannot implement them properly,” he said. “If we have no operational plan, we can’t get funding from the government.”

One of the main hurdles to formulating such a plan, Sok Srun said, was a lack of statistical analysis.

At the moment, the ministry is looking to NGOs to provide skilled researchers to conduct a one- or two-year study of healthcare-associated infections in Cambodia.

“We need epidemiologists,” Sok Srun said. “We need more technical data.”

Some of the issues contributing to HCAIs, such as insufficient supplies of alcohol-based hand sanitiser in some hospitals, could be attributed directly to the lack of an operational plan, Sok Srun said, but others were purely behavioural.

The WHO has a rolling training program in place to teach hospital staff proper hygiene techniques, but the human element continues to confound.

Officials are still trying to figure out which methods, if any, will change healthcare workers’ habits.

“For example, if they had their own small supply of alcohol hand gel, would they use it more often?” Chea Nora said. “Putting all these elements together is a challenge, but should be achievable with a step-wise approach.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart White at



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