Infection prevention and control (IPC) is a practical, evidence-based approach preventing patients and health workers from being harmed by avoidable infections. Effective IPC requires constant action at all levels of the health system, including policymakers, facility managers, health workers and those who access health services. IPC is unique in the field of patient safety and quality of care, as it is universally relevant to every health worker and patient, at every health care interaction. Defective IPC causes harm and can kill. Without effective IPC it is impossible to achieve quality health care delivery.
Infection prevention and control effects all aspects of health care, including hand hygiene, surgical site infections, injection safety, antimicrobial resistance and how hospitals operate during and outside of emergencies. Programmes to support IPC are particularly important in low- and middle-income countries, where health care delivery and medical hygiene standards may be negatively affected by secondary infections.
Much of the work done on infection prevention and control (IPC) is hidden, as by its nature it prevents issues rather than treating them after the fact. However, health care-associated infections (HAIs) are an ongoing problem that no health authority can afford to ignore. To help in this fight, WHO has created a number of programmes and campaigns that set standards for evidence-based recommendations and operating procedures and promote behaviours to limit avoidable infections.
The first WHO Global Patient Challenge laid the foundations for the IPC Global Unit, which works to support country capacity-building for IPC action. Through this programme, WHO provides technical assistance for developing local IPC policies and guidelines, performs in-country assessments, convenes meetings focused on guideline development and provides ongoing support for health care providers.
WHO also makes a global annual call to action for health workers though the SAVE LIVES: Clean Your Hands campaign held each May. This campaign seeks to educate health workers and patients on the importance of effective hand washing, the need for which has become more acute with the COVID-19 pandemic.