Patient safety, a top priority for all

Increasing patient safety is possible if everyone contributes towards protecting health workers to deliver quality health care.

Globally, one in every 300 patients dies due to preventable medical accidents while receiving health care, resulting in 2.6 million patients losing lives due to unsafe health care every year. Thus, patient safety is a serious public health concern.

To increase public awareness, understanding and engagement on patient safety issues, and stimulate global solidarity and action to promote patient safety, the World Health Organisation (WHO) last year designated September 17 as World Patient Safety Day.

On this day, we celebrate patient safety because it is paramount to saving lives and contributes towards realisation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number three which seeks to ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all people at all ages.

Realizing quality healthcare requires that we do no harm to patients. This draws attention on the role of health workers to keep patients safe. Yet patients cannot be safe if healthcare workers are not safe.

The connection of patient safety to that of health workers is even greater during the COVID-19 pandemic: to keep patients safe, frontline healthcare workers must be safe. The theme for this year’s World Patient Safety Day, Health Worker Safety: A Priority for Patient Safety, is therefore casting light on this important link.

Nadu Morgan from Nkhoma in Lilongwe provides a perfect example. She has now recovered from COVID-19, thanks to the quality healthcare she received from health workers whose safety was strengthened to reduce their exposure to risks.

While more than 41,000 health workers have been infected with COVID-19 in Africa, it is reassuring that Malawi is among countries with lower COVID-19 cases among healthcare workers, and some African countries like Rwanda have even recorded no COVID-19 infections among health workers.

To protect healthcare workers from COVID-19 and contribute to enhanced patient safety, capacity building for personnel in the health sector is imperative. This is why the United Nations (UN), in collaboration with the Government of Malawi and other partners, has been training health workers on COVID-19  infection prevention, control, treatment and other areas. Such capacity building needs to be sustained.

A better working environment with adequate provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) is also crucial to reduce the risk of infection among healthcare workers. Together with partners, the UN has been providing essential supplies, including PPEs that are contributing to keeping healthcare workers and the people of Malawi safe from COVID-19. It is essential for all healthcare workers to access and properly utilise the PPEs to keep themselves and patients safe.

Besides, provision and utilisation of critical technical guidance on COVID-19 is vital to enable healthcare workers provide quality care to patients and manage COVID-19 cases effectively. The health workforce has a responsibility to follow and implement the provided guidance and protocols. Any laxity by one healthcare worker puts all health personnel and patients at risk.

Other solutions for patient safety in hospitals are as simple as instituting quality control systems in health facilities to help identify and fix gaps in healthcare services. For example, after a Quality Management Unit was established in Sierra Leone, deaths among children in 13 high burden hospitals dropped from 15.6 percent in 2017 to 9.6 percent in 2019.

Better collaboration, engagement and communication among the health personnel, patients, professional associations, local communities and other relevant stakeholders also improve patient safety and strengthen health care systems. This requires efficient and transparent incident reporting mechanisms to learn from mistakes with no-fault and no-blame handling of adverse incidents.

As WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, has said in her World Patient Safety Day message, patients and their families must also 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.

COVID-19 is not over yet. We must continue to practice all recommended measures to prevent a second wave of high COVID-19 infections.

It is also time for partners and national authorities to improve the resilience of the country’s health system to be able to cope with any health crisis.

Author of the Op-ed: UN Resident Coordinator, Maria Jose Torres

Media Contacts
UN entities involved in this initiative
Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS
United Nations Population Fund
United Nations Children’s Fund
World Health Organization