Five avoidable deaths per minute shows urgent need for action on patient safety

WHO/Yoshi Shimizu An elderly patient receives rehabilitation care in Japan.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


With at least five people dying every minute due to unsafe health care, the World Health Organization (WHO) is urging medical professionals, policy makers, caregivers and patients to take urgent action to ensure no one is harmed while receiving treatment.

“Speak up for patient safety!” is the slogan for the first World Patient Safety Day, observed this Tuesday, 17 September.

The objective is to prevent and reduce risks, errors and harm, such as dispensing the wrong medication due to a mix-up over similar packaging.

“No one should be harmed while receiving health care. And yet globally, at least five patients die every minute because of unsafe care,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said ahead of the day.

“We need a patient safety culture that promotes partnership with patients, encourages reporting and learning from errors, and creates a blame-free environment where health workers are empowered and trained to reduce errors.”

WHO cites research which shows medication errors are estimated to cost more than $40 billion annually.

Other challenges include health care-associated infections, unsafe surgical care procedures, diagnostic errors, and sepsis, which causes more than five million deaths a year.

WHO has launched a campaign which calls for urgent action as patient safety is fundamental to quality essential health services.

Patients can speak up by being actively involved in their health care through asking informed questions and providing full details about their medical history.

The medical community is being urged to develop a culture of patient safety culture through various means, including reporting and learning from errors and promoting more open communication across all levels.

Health care professionals also can work to reduce errors, for example through training, simplifying and standardizing procedures, and ensuring a safe and clean environment.

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