Opinion: Manning the barricades
At any given time, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 1.4 million people worldwide suffer from infections acquired in hospitals. In the developed world the so-called superbugs, such as MRSA, are frequently in the headlines and public awareness of the risk is relatively high.
Similarly, there is increasing discipline in the healthcare sector to enforce hand hygiene as the most important measure for reducing the spread of HAIs.
But just when the topic is in danger of losing its impact through becoming overly familiar, the WHO has put the issue of drug resistance firmly back in the spotlight by choosing the theme “Combat Drug Resistance” for World Health Day 2011.
Serious as the problem is in industrialised countries, the risk of health care-associated infection in some developing countries is as much as 20 times higher. And in some areas, the WHO says, the proportion of injections given with syringes or needles reused without sterilisation is as high as 70%, resulting in 1.3 million deaths a year primarily due to transmission of blood-borne pathogens.
Unless something is done urgently on a global scale to slow down the number of pathogens developing drug resistance and to prevent the spread of infections cause by resistant strains, diseases that were on the retreat, such as leprosy and tuberculosis to name but two, will once again become the scourge of large parts of the world.
Stepping up measures to improve infection prevention and control is only a small part of the picture, but it is the front line of defence and needs to be made as strong as possible.
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