NGO to aid community: Prioritize preventable hospital deaths

A hospital ward in Bharatpur, India. More people die in hospital from causes related to improper health services, equipment and attention than AIDS and traffic accidents. Photo by: ianandvale / CC BY-NC-ND

Around 3 million people die each year — more than from AIDS and traffic accidents — in hospitals from causes related to improper health services, equipment and attention.

That’s alarming because all those deaths are fully preventable, according to the Patient Safety Movement Foundation, a U.S.-based nonprofit that is trying to develop an innovative, multi-stakeholder approach to transform the process of healthcare and on Tuesday committed at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York to zero preventable hospital deaths by 2020.

“The extremely important issue of preventable hospital deaths is definitely a global issue — an estimated 3 million people in hospitals are dying unnecessarily,” Joe Kiani, the group’s founder, told Devex. He added that over the past few years, improvements in achieving unified healthcare have been significant, but a long-term commitment in making sure health is sustainable remains a challenge.

So how can development organizations help? By persuading governments to make preventable health diseases a priority in their national policies.

“They can play a significant role. It starts by making preventable hospital deaths a priority,” explained Kiani. “If governments and the aid community make it a requirement for hospitals to implement evidence-based practices in order to provide aid, then those involved will make it a priority.”

Currently, hospital acquired infection is the number one cause of hospital deaths, something lamentable given hospitals should cure diseases and not aggravate the patient’s situation, according to the organization. In the case of countries where healthcare is not a top priority, the situation is drastic, and even decent medical facilities are lacking, education and awareness is most needed.

“Access to the right tools and technology is an important factor but when it is not there yet, then educating those in simple things like the proper hand washing technique and the importance of not transferring bacteria on your clothing will make a huge difference,” Kiani said.


Eliminating preventable hospital deaths, as a multidimensional issue, still faces several obstacles, as healthcare is more than just building hospitals and handing out medicines to patients.

Kiani noted the current challenges hounding the fight against preventable health diseases include failure to rescue due to delayed recognition of the patient’s complications, as well as medication errors where patients are given inaccurate or incomplete treatment. Other problems are hospital infections, incompetency of medical practitioners, lack of updated and effective technological facilities and a glaring information gap.

Kiani indicated that bridging this information gap is one of the most important steps towards putting everything into place, which is why medical companies, private firms and governments should all do their part in creating this much needed “patient data superhighway.”

“The gap will be bridged once the leaders of medical technology companies, hospitals, and other areas in our healthcare ecosystem realize that to share data is to save lives,” he said. “We also think that governments around the globe can create incentives for sharing data.”

But ultimately, solving these challenges in all fronts — not just the information gap — is necessary if a unified healthcare system is to be achieved.

“We believe the goal of the new millennium isn’t simply to give people access to healthcare, but to give them access to healthcare system that guarantees patient safety and patient dignity,” concluded Kiani.

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About the author

  • Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.