Across the world, health agencies recognize the profound impact of infectious disease on health and prosperity. Equally, they recognize that prevention is central to fighting infection, and that hygiene in home and everyday life (HEDL) is a key part of this. A current driver is the part that hygienei plays in tackling antibiotic resistance, but it also reflects growing numbers of people at greater risk of infection being cared for in the community. Sustaining the quality of state-funded healthcare requires that the public take greater responsibility for their own health, including protecting themselves and their families against infection. Hygiene must be must be everyone’s responsibility. However, if we are to be successful in promoting hygiene as part of public health, there are barriers which need to be overcome. A key issue is the need to balance evidence of the health benefits of hygiene against possible risks, such as environmental impacts and toxicity issues. Another issue is the role of microbes in human health and whether we have become “too clean”. Lack of a unified voice advocating for hygiene means these issues have tended to take precedence. Another barrier to change is public confusion about the need for hygiene and the difference between hygiene and cleanliness. To address this, we must work together to provide the public with a clear, consistent restatement of the importance of hygiene, and to change public perceptions about hygiene and good hygiene practice. This paper is unique because it examines these issues in an integrated manner and focuses on making achievable, constructive recommendations for developing an effective and sustainable approach. The paper lays out a risk management strategy for hygiene in home and everyday life which gives hygiene appropriate priority within the context of environmental and other health concerns. This “targeted hygiene” approach needs to be placed at the heart of a multimodal prevention strategy, alongside vaccination and other interventions. Based on the findings of this paper, we issue a call to action to national and international policy makers, health agencies and health professionals to recognize the need for an integrated, family-centredii approach to hygiene, and provide effective leadership to achieve this. This paper shows that many of the components of a behaviour change strategy are already in place, but need to be integrated rather than developed independently. We also issue a call to scientists, health professionals, environmental and regulatory agencies, immunologists, microbiomists, the private sector (hygiene appliance and product manufacturers) and the media to work together, through innovative research and communication policies. A collaborative effort is vital if we are to overcome barriers to change and action integrated behaviour change programmes that really work. The report represents the consensus views of an international, interdisciplinary group of experts in the field of infection prevention and hygiene. We recognise that this paper leaves many questions unanswered and would welcome further dialogue with stakeholders on how to develop policy. The aim of this paper is to provide a sound basis for such dialogue. At the 2016 launch of the European Human Biomonitoring Initiative, the EU commissioner for food safety said the followingiii which encapsulates the aim of this report.
“We must collectively recognise that risk and uncertainty are part and parcel of every decision we take. We need to engage people in a serious and rational debate. But in this world of information overload – from old media and new – information, misinformation, opinions, prejudices, truths, half-truths and un-truths all compete for public attention. We need better communication of science so that people can be better informed about risk assessment and management decisions”
Number of pages|
Published - 17 Oct 2018|
A report commissioned by the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene