On Hand Hygiene Day 2020, The Edition speaks with Dr Arvind Marthur about WHO's 'Save Lives: Clean your hands' campaign, which, as one of the most vigorously promoted and implemented measures against the COVID-19 pandemic, carries more weight than ever today.
Since 2009, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has celebrated the 'Save Lives: Clean your hands' campaign on May 5, focusing on the importance of hand hygiene in health care and the front-line heroes who deserve recognition for their contributions to the health sector.
On this year's Hand Hygiene Day, the campaign carries more weight than ever.
Clean hands have become one of the most vigorously promoted and implemented measures in the fight against the global COVID-19 pandemic.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, front-line workers, especially healthcare professionals, fight the toughest battle that the world has faced in recent times. Hence, WHO tied in the 'Clean Your Hands' campaign with the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife being celebrated in 2020, to shine the spotlight on these health workers as being front-line heroes that are well-deserving of praise and acknowledgement for the critical roles that play in the prevention of infections.
In an exclusive interview with The Edition, WHO Representative to Maldives Dr Arvind Mathur stressed the importance of ensuring safe and quality care for everyone, adding, "especially now, for COVID-19 patients".
On May 5, 2020, as the world also celebrates the International Day of the Midwife, WHO calls to action five different groups of people including nurses, midwives, policy makers, IPC leaders and patients and families.
While "clean and safe care starts with nurses", and "midwives' hands make all the difference for mothers and babies", WHO also urges policymakers to increase nurse staffing levels to prevent infections and improve quality of care in addition to creating the means to empower nurses and midwives along with IPC leaders.
The responsibility that falls on the public's shoulders to contribute to the cause by taking personal responsibility for their own hygiene must not go unmentioned either.
"The current crisis is demonstrating the essential, tireless, innovative and too-often undervalued role of health workers in ensuring strong, resilient health systems for everyone, everywhere".
As health care workers stretch themselves to their limits offering up their time, knowledge and energy in this time of crisis, it remains a necessity of utmost importance to ensure their safety in return for their services.
Dr Mathur listed the contributions WHO has made for the front liners in Maldives battling against COVID-19, including the procurement and distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits, providence of training and supplies, and ensuring the availability of water, sanitation and hygiene - which is often taken for granted.
"Just by providing soap and water we are enabling our safety, thanks to their safe hands".
With countries clambering to contain the outbreaks all over the globe, Dr Mathur emphasised on the importance of advocating on the appropriate usage of medical items, specifically medical gloves, which need to be reserved for health care activities only.
"Medical gloves should not be used in the community for the purpose to prevent COVID-19; frequent hand hygiene is necessary instead of glove use", he stressed.
Dr Mathur also highlighted that universal access to public hand hygiene stations must be promoted, and their use made obligatory on entering and leaving any public or private commercial building and any public transport facility.
Congratulating Maldives on the country's achievements in providing clean health care, Dr Mathur emphasised that Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in every healthcare facility is a prerequisite for improving the quality of health care services.
Health care facilities that are clean and provide safe health care, "increases trust and demand for services, improves the experience of care, strengthens staff morale and performance, and emphasizes the role of staff as a role model for the community for setting community hygiene norms."
In order to raise the standards of healthcare in Maldives, WHO has supported the continuous WASH programme in healthcare facilities by conducting Training of Trainers (TOT) across every atoll in July last year, aiming to sensitise health workers on the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene as well as health care waste management.
"The Maldives has also already conducted the WASH in HCF assessment in 2018 for health facilities in the country for all WASH indicators and is, in fact, the only country in the world which has the information for all indicators", Dr Mathur noted.
For the continuous assurance of clean health care, WHO intends to continue supporting the Health Protection Agency (HPA) and Ministry of Health to roll out and implement the WASH facility improvement tool (WASH FIT) by conducting more training programmes across the country.
"This tool is able to provide data and information on WASH for all health facilities across the nation. This enables us to identify the gaps and understand the issues that needs to be addressed."
Despite the progress Maldives has made in the healthcare sector by working with multi-stakeholders, there is still much work to be done in regard to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) envisioned by the United Nations.
Policies such as the existing health care scheme 'Husnuvaa Aasandha', IPC frameworks and WASH FIT are all monumental steps towards a brighter future, but such efforts must be carried out continuously to provide access to clean health care for everyone.
Dr Mathur pointed out that investing in the health work force is one of the most crucial steps that can be taken to accelerate the progress towards SDGs and to minimise the burden on health systems.
"Poor hand hygiene practice could also be due to overload and lack of time by clinical teams given the shortage of staff affecting the health systems", he noted.
In this era of unprecedented technological advances, Dr Mathur also suggested complementing the existing efforts by the Health Ministry by enhancing the use of "an integrated health information system" to allow the monitoring of the progress made in real-time.
Undoubtedly, the ongoing fight towards transforming the world, even in one area, will be filled with a multitude of challenges, and the COVID-19 pandemic is evidently the toughest hand that the health sector has been dealt in recent times.
As the current circumstances expose the most detrimental practices in our community, it is our duty, as a people, to use this calamity as a catalyst for positive change - and on May 5, one can contribute by pledging to always practice proper hygiene by washing their hands.