Washing Hands A top U.N. doctor is repeating the message to healthcare professionals, a message that is usually heard from mothers around the world: clean your hands. U.N. World Health Organization Acting Director-General Anders Nordstrom said Friday at any given moment about 1.4 million people worldwide are ill because of infections acquired in hospitals.

Yet one of the most powerful approaches to fighting the scourge is also the simplest, and that is for doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers to clean their hands every time they see a patient.

“We can reduce these numbers dramatically, and more and more countries are showing they are ready to take action,” Nordstrom said. “With the help of WHO and other partners these countries are laying the foundations for patients everywhere to receive cleaner, safer care.”

Some 22 countries representing 55 percent of the world’s population have signed on to the Global Patient Safety Challenge — Clean Care is Safer Care — since it was launched by the WHO World Alliance for Patient Safety in October 2005.

In developed countries, 5 to 10 percent of all patients succumb to infections acquired in hospitals, while in some developing countries as many as a quarter of patients may be affected.

Many countries have already substantially improved hand hygiene practices among health professionals.

During a recent four-month hand hygiene campaign in Switzerland, compliance with good practices increased 25 percent among doctors and nurses working in two cantonal hospitals. Based on the study it has been estimated the Swiss could avert 17,000 such infections each year if hospitals nationwide achieved comparable improvements.