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The scientific evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that appropriate hand hygiene is the single most effective action to stop the spread of infection, while integrated with other critical measures. 

  • Appropriate hand hygiene prevents up to 50% of avoidable infections acquired during health care delivery, including those affecting the health work force.
  • The WHO multimodal hand hygiene improvement strategy has proved to be highly effective, leading to a significant improvement in key hand hygiene indicators, a reduction in health care-associated infections (HAIs) and antimicrobial resistance, and substantially helping to stop outbreaks.
  • Appropriate hand hygiene reduces the risk on SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – infection among health workers.
  • Investing in hand hygiene yields huge returns. Implementation of hand hygiene policies can generate economic savings averaging 16 times the cost of their implementation.

Effective hand hygiene is not only a key measure for preventing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and for safe COVID-19 vaccination, but it also reduces the burden of health care-associated infections and the spread of antimicrobial resistance.

Hand hygiene compliance is recommended as one of the key performance indicators for infection prevention and control programmes, patient safety and quality of health services worldwide.

Illustration showing steps of hand hygiene at the point of care.

Despite its simplicity, hand hygiene is still poorly practiced in many health care facilities.

  • 1 in 4 health care facilities do not have basic water services, which means that 1.8 billion people currently lack basic water services at their health care facility, while 712 million have no running water at their health care facility.
  • 1 in 3 facilities lack hand hygiene facilities at the point of care.
  • Compliance with hand hygiene best practices is only around 9% during care of critically ill patients in low-income countries.
  • Levels of hand hygiene compliance for high-income countries rarely exceed 70%, calling for additional efforts to improve practices all over the world.

These deficiencies in infrastructure, practices and culture have tremendous consequences on patient and health worker safety and so on all people’s lives.

  • Globally, out of every 100 patients, 7 in developed and 15 in developing countries will acquire at least one HAI in acute care hospitals.
  • HAIs in adult intensive care units and neonatal infection rates are 2–3 and 3–20 times higher, respectively, in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries.
  • 8.9 million HAIs occur every year in acute and long-term care facilities in the European Union and European Economic Area (EU/EEA).
  • 1 million of the 4.1 million maternal and neonatal deaths annually worldwide may be related to unhygienic birthing practices, including lack of hand hygiene.