Message of the WHO Regional Director for Africa, on the occasion of the eleventh annual campaign: SAVE LIVES: Clean Your Hands, 5 May 2019

Today, we mark the eleventh annual SAVE LIVES: Clean Your Hands global campaign with the theme “Clean care for all – it's in your hands”. The World Health Organization is using this important message to call on everyone in health services or who uses health services to work more devotedly towards better hand hygiene, which is a huge factor in preventing infections.

The WHO SAVE LIVES: Clean Your Hands campaign is designed to maintain a global profile on the importance of hand hygiene in health care and to bring health professionals, workers and patients together in support of better hand hygiene. Infection prevention and control, including hand hygiene, is critical for achieving universal health coverage. It is a practical and evidence-based approach with demonstrated impact on the quality of care and patient safety across all levels of the health system.

Based on the available information on the widespread problem of infections in Africa, a recent WHO review revealed that the frequency is much greater in the region than in developed countries, with a hospital-wide prevalence of between 2.5% and 14.8%. In developing countries, more than half of all infants being treated in facilities for new-borns suffer health-care associated infections, with a fatality rate of between 4% and 56%. And health care workers are also exposed to risks while caring for their ill patients, such as tuberculosis, hepatitis, HIV, Ebola and other infections.

Simple, effective strategies can prevent and reduce health-care associated infections. For instance, improvement in hand hygiene has proven to minimize infections as well as the development of antimicrobial resistance. This essential practice should be promoted as the entry point for introducing other preventive measures.

This year, the campaign calls for the following actions:

  • Health workers: Champion clean care – it’s in your hands!
  • Infection prevention and control leaders: Monitor infection prevention and control standards – take action and improve practices.
  • Health facility leaders: Is your facility up to WHO infection control and hand hygiene standards? Take part in the WHO survey 2019 and take action!
  • Ministries of health: Does your country meet infection prevention and control standards? Monitor and act to achieve quality universal health coverage.
  • Patient advocacy groups: Ask for clean care – it’s your right.


I call upon health leaders, managers, health care workers, consumer associations and similar bodies in the African region to implement a true safety culture in which patients (and their relatives and visitors) and health care workers join – their clean – hands together to promote the best hand hygiene practices and thus strengthen infection prevention and control. While responsibility for hand hygiene in medical facilities remains with health care workers, patients should support them by practising and learning more about better hand hygiene.

I also call upon Member States to take advantage of this year’s hand hygiene campaign to recognize the immense threat of health care-associated infections in our region. We must consolidate our efforts to improve hand hygiene and infection prevention and control within our health services. No action today, means more heath care-associated infections tomorrow.

Thank you.