A Call to Action By Dr. Jean Kaseya, Director General, Africa CDC
Hand hygiene practices are critical in reducing the transmission of infections, particularly during disease outbreaks such as Ebola, SARS, Influenza, and currently, COVID-19. Improving hand hygiene can also reduce the occurrence of diseases like diarrhoea and respiratory infections, which are major causes of morbidity and mortality in Africa. Furthermore, healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) in Africa can be prevented through improved hand hygiene practices. However, the continent faces significant challenges in promoting hand hygiene due to the lack of access to clean water and sanitation facilities.
This year’s commemoration of world hand hygiene day provides the continent with an opportunity to take stock and define the next steps for Africa’s progress in improving hand hygiene as well as monitoring and evaluating hand hygiene interventions.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that 50% of healthcare facilities worldwide lack basic hygiene, while approximately 32% of healthcare facilities in Africa do not have access to hand hygiene facilities at the points of care. The joint report from UNICEF and WHO reveals that 839 million individuals and 38% of schools continue to lack essential hygiene facilities across the continent. In urban regions, 50% of the population lacks access to these services, compared to 70% in rural areas, highlighting significant disparities.
Access to hand hygiene remains a luxury in many parts of the African continent. Hand hygiene must be entrenched as a routine clean care habit for everyone and especially in health care facilities, schools, crowded public spaces, camps, and prisons.
Despite the challenges that Africa faces in promoting hand hygiene, progress has been made in recent years. In accordance with the “African Common Position on AMR”. there is an urgent need to improve the proportion of healthcare facilities implementing infection control and prevention programs. This strong political push by the African Union Heads of State and Government to control antimicrobial resistance in Africa outlines the commitment to increase access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene in healthcare facilities, schools, households, and community settings.
Similarly, the Africa Regional Directors of the AU, FAO, OIE, WHO, and UNEP in a joint call to action, highlight the need for political leadership, joint campaigns, multisectoral collaborations for infection prevention and control (IPC) and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) at regional, national, and sub-national levels.
The continent has demonstrated decisive leadership in addressing public health issues, through the Africa CDC New Public Health Order roadmapwith a strong commitment to address deeper structural public health deficiencies at national, regional and continental levels. These continental commitments position Africa on the pathway towards achieving African Union Agenda 2063 aspiration one on health-related targets for a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development.
The COVID-19 pandemic presented an enormous logistics challenge for the continent and exposed Africa’s vulnerabilities in ensuring access to the availability of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other IPC commodities needed by healthcare workers across the continent.
Local manufacturing of Alcohol-Based Hand Rubs (ABHR) in Africa has experienced a significant surge, driven by the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the continent’s innovators dedicated to promoting hand hygiene. African entrepreneurs have leveraged indigenous knowledge and local resources to develop affordable and effective hand sanitisers, addressing the increasing demand for such products.
Investing in hand hygiene practices can bring immense benefits. Notably, across the African Union Member States, public awareness campaigns and collaborations with local communities have effectively promoted hand hygiene practices.
Incorporating hand hygiene education into school curricula and community programs fosters a lasting culture of hygiene. Engaging community leaders, religious institutions, and local organizations strengthens the message and encourages them to champion hand hygiene in their communities. Merging these strategies significantly contributes to raising awareness and recognising hand hygiene as a vital component in disease prevention.Top of Form
A Call to Action
As we continue to recover from the challenges posed by COVID-19 and the emergence of new pathogens, we must recognize the urgency of increasing investments in hand hygiene.
Today, I call on Africa Union Member States to put in place the much-needed political commitments, domestic financing and infrastructure, and legal backing through policies, standards and enforcement mechanisms. Governments, policymakers, the private sector, Civil Society organizations, international partners, academia, communities and individuals must collectively step-up efforts in prioritizing hand hygiene as a critical component of disease prevention and control.
By prioritizing hand hygiene, we are taking a proactive step in safeguarding the health and well-being of millions across our continent.
I encourage Member States to leverage the lessons learned and adequately invest in good infection prevention and control practices in healthcare facilities to limit the transmission and spread of infections and protect Health Care Workers (HCWs).
Hand hygiene is not just a personal responsibility, but a collective one.
Hand hygiene cannot remain a luxury, but a fundamental human right for a healthier Africa.Together we can accelerate ACTION!