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This May 5th, Double Your Celebrations To Make A Meaningful Impact

Jason Tetro
April 08, 2014

WHO May 5th Hand HygieneMost of us know at least one person in our lives whose birthday falls on another special day, such as New Year’s, Canada Day, Halloween, and of course, Christmas.  For these lucky individuals, there are two opportunities for revelries as they mark the day of their birth as well as a traditionally known day of joy.  For those of us within the close circle of that individual, we also get to share in the multiple festivities.


This year, another double celebration is about to occur and we are all invited to join in the festivities.  It’s May 5th, known around the world as SAVE LIVES day to support hand hygiene.  But now, thanks to the World Health Organization the day also marks the effort to SAVE ANTIBIOTICS from the rising revolt of resistance.  


We’ve known almost since the day antibiotics were released to the public en masse that resistance occurs and the end might be near. Despite the doomsday decrees, the death of these weapons against infectious disease has yet to happen.  This is partly attributable to the dawn of stewardship although accolades are also due to those who practice good hand hygiene.  Mathematically speaking, observing the 5 moments of hand hygiene is an excellent way to prevent the spread of resistant bacteria.  Practically speaking, an increase in the use of alcohol-based handrubs correlates with a reduction in the prevalence of MRSAVRE and KPC. 


While these documented successes indicate the link between hand hygiene and a reduction in the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, there continues to be a plethora of studies demonstrating little to no effect.  The reason, however, is not due to a failing of hand hygiene but rather, with hand hygiene compliance.  Based on models, in order to see any actual benefit, the rate of compliance needs to be at least 80%.  For many institutions – local and global – this is an unachieved rate.


This is where the double celebrations really take hold.  For years, May 5th has given us an opportunity to spread the good word of hand hygiene and to strive to increase compliance to save lives.  But that alone may not inspire people to change.  This too has links to the birthday situation.  If a birthday happens on any normal day of the year, it comes, it goes and people forget until the next year.  While people may join in the hand hygiene movement on May 5th, by the 6th, they may have already moved on.    


But if someone has a birthday say on Christmas, the fact seems to linger with people, giving them a reason to remember and to act.  Believe it or not, psychologists have determined why having a birthday on a special day is so meaningful.  Based on their work a combination birthday/holiday leads to the mental belief in a prophesy in which the person can achieve anything associated with that particular day.  People born on Christmas have a tendency to be regarded as preachers.  Those celebrating on July 4th are born leaders.  Share a birthday with New Years lauds you as an instrument of change.  Although the researchers did not study this, as a Valentine’s Day baby, I can attest that people consider people born on this day to be lovers of life and humanity.  


Common to all of these days is the link between a person who might otherwise be insignificant and a momentous occasion observed by millions.  Even more interesting is the fact that the attitudes towards these people seem to continue throughout the year.  In the context of hand hygiene, while SAVE LIVES may be an important message, combining it with an even greater goal in the minds of the medical profession, SAVE ANTIBIOTICS, may actually provide the importance for year-long recognition and compliance.


As May 5th approaches, make sure to share with your colleagues and friends the double meaning of this celebration.  Reveal to them not only the fact hand hygiene saves lives but also the ability to save our antimicrobials for years to come.  After all, while we all may not face a situation in which hand hygiene could mean life or death, we all recognize just how important antibiotics are to our quality of life.  By keeping this important perspective in mind, we may finally have the momentum to increase compliance worldwide and achieve our goals to save not only antimicrobials, but thousands if not millions of lives.


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