On 17 September, we celebrate World Patient Safety Day because to realize quality health care, the first step is to do no harm, yet in hospitals in low- and middle-income countries globally, every year, there are 134 million adverse events due to unsafe care, contributing to 2.6 million lives lost.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reaffirmed that to keep patients safe, health workers must be protected, and so this year’s theme is Health Worker Safety: A Priority for Patient Safety.
Front-line health workers are at greater risk of infection because of the care they provide to patients. In the WHO African Region, more than 41,000 health workers have been infected with COVID-19, accounting for 3.8% of all reported cases. Some countries, like Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire have made progress in reducing the proportion of health worker infections. Others such as Eritrea, Rwanda and Seychelles have not recorded a single case of COVID-19 among health workers.
To protect health workers from COVID-19 and contribute to enhanced patient safety, in collaboration with partners and national and provincial authorities, WHO has trained more than 50 000 health workers in the African Region in infection prevention and control, with plans to train over 200 000 more. Around 31 million items of personal protective equipment have been shipped to Member States and guidance documents on best care practices are in-development, to support the creation of enabling environments for safe health workers and safe patients.
Often the solutions to enhance patient safety are simple and cost effective. For example, after a Quality Management Unit was established in Sierra Leone, deaths among children in 13 high burden hospitals dropped from 15.6% in 2017 to 9.6% in 2019.
Patient safety is an essential component in strengthening health systems to achieve universal health coverage, and achieving it requires collaboration and open communication between multidisciplinary health-care teams, patients and patients’ organizations, professional associations and other stakeholders.
Action is needed to understand the magnitude of patient harm, including through transparent incident reporting to learn from mistakes with no-fault and no-blame handling of adverse events. Patients and their families must be enabled to take preventive, systematic measures to participate in improving the safety of care and to reduce risks to all individuals, with special attention to at-risk groups, including people with disabilities and older people.
By pursuing patient-centred policies, redesigning processes, ramping-up hygiene practices and transforming organizational cultures, health care can be made safer.
So today, I call on all of us to work together to protect health workers, so they can protect patients, in supportive, enabling environments for the delivery of quality health care.
World Health Assembly resolution 72.6 Global action on patient safety (2019)
WHO Patient Safety fact sheet
World Patient Safety Day 2020: Campaign website