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WHO Lists 9 Ways to Prevent Health Care Errors

The World Health Organization has unveiled a list of solutions aimed at improving patient safety around the globe and reducing the number of health care related accidents that it says affect millions each day. VOA's William Ide has more from Washington.

The World Health Organization says medical errors affect one in 10 patients around the globe. Patient safety is a concern both in developing and developed countries.

To address this issue, the WHO's Collaborating Center on Patient Safety has created a checklist of what it calls the "nine life-saving patient safety solutions."

Among the potential dangers listed are look-alike, sound-alike medicines, patient misidentification, the spread of HIV and other diseases through the reuse of needles and improper hygiene.

Liam Donaldson, the head of the WHO's World Health Alliance, explained some of the common problems during a conference in Washington.

"Any of those things could kill or harm us," said Donaldson. " So, this isn't some remote idea that affects people who are patients in other parts of the world that we never hear about day-to-day. They could affect any one of us in this room, and that's really what this program is about, trying to reduce risk for health care everywhere for everyone."

Tebogo Letlape a former president of the World Medical Association, says teaching the simple practice of hand washing in the home and at schools in Africa could go a long way to preventing the spread of disease.

"And it will have a major major impact," said Letlape. "I mean, globally, 25 percent of deaths are related to infectious diseases. But, in Africa, it is more than 40 percent of deaths in Africa. So, hand-washing becomes a critical thing that we can do."

Karen Timmons, president of a U.S. based patient safety organization that works with the WHO, says she is struck by the similarity of the problems that affect patients regardless of where they live.

"Worldwide, 1.4 million patients who enter the hospital each year actually end up sicker, because they acquire an infection while being treated for their original illness," said Timmons. "In the United States, more people die from medical errors than losing their lives from traffic accidents, breast cancer or HIV/AIDS."

In 2005, the WHO designated the U.S.-based Joint Commission and the Joint Commission International as its Collaborating Center on Patient Safety Solutions. The Joint Commission and its international branch evaluate and accredit health care organizations in the United States and overseas.

In the effort to identify and address widespread problems and challenges to health care safety, the patient safety solutions center worked together with health care providers, practitioners and other experts from more than 100 countries.