WHO releases Global Guidelines for the Prevention of Surgical Site Infection

Published by

Emily Christopher

Published on

8 November 2016

On 3 November 2016 the World Health Organization (WHO) released the Global Guidelines for the Prevention of Surgical Site Infection. These guidelines are a culmination of the latest research, resulting in a list of 29 recommendations, which aim to address “the increasing burden of health care associated infections on both patients and health care systems globally.” The guidelines were also published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases (1, 2).


“Surgical site infections are caused by bacteria that get in through incisions made during surgery (1, 3).” These infections contribute to the spread of antibiotic resistance, increased time spent in hospital, more intensive care requirements, and growing health care costs around the globe. In low- and middle-income countries, more than 1 in 10 surgical patients acquire surgical site infections (1).


Antibiotic resistance is a growing burden on health care systems worldwide. It occurs when bacteria develop the ability to resist the effect of an antibiotic, so the drug can no longer control bacterial growth (4). As bacteria become resistant to more therapies, surgical interventions carry higher risks for patients. These risks include increased morbidity and mortality, higher medical costs, and more time spent in the hospital. The new guidelines recommend that antibiotics should be used only before and during surgery as an infection prevention measure. They should not be used after surgery. According to the WHO, there is no evidence to support the use of antibiotic prophylaxis after surgery (5).


The Global Guidelines for the Prevention of Surgical Site Infection are the first evidence-based international guidelines of their kind. They can be used anywhere in the world and adapted to local conditions. Health facilities may use the new guidelines with WHO’s existing Surgical Safety Checklist (6) to further support safe surgical practices. The guidelines are designed to help surgical teams “reduce harm, improve quality of life, and do their bit to top the spread of antibiotic resistance.” They include recommendations on preventing infection before, during and after surgery (1, 5).


To prevent surgical site infections, the world’s health care systems must invest in preventative measures. A study done in 4 African countries showed that “implementing a selection of the new recommendations could result in a 39% reduction in surgical site infections (1).”


The WHO Global Guidelines for the Prevention of Surgical Site Infection can be accessed here(5).


  1. World Health Organization. WHO recommends 29 ways top stop surgical infections and avoid superbugs. 3 November 2016. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2016/recommendations-surgical-infections/en/. Accessed 3 November 2016.
  2. Allegranzi B, Zayed B, Bischoff P, et al. New WHO recommendations on intraoperative and postoperative measures for surgical site infection prevention: an evidence-based global perspective. The Lancet Infectious Diseases. 2 November 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1473-3099(16)30402-9. Accessed 3 November 2016.
  3. World Health Organization. Surgical Site Infections: Questions and Answers. 2016. http://www.who.int/gpsc/ssi-questions-answers/en/. Accessed 3 November 2016.
  4. Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics. What is Antibiotic Resistance and Why is it a problem? 2014. http://emerald.tufts.edu/med/apua/about_issue/antibiotic_res.shtml. Accessed 3 November 2016.
  5. World Health Organization. Global Guidelines for the Prevention of Surgical Site Infection. 2016. http://www.who.int/gpsc/global-guidelines-web.pdf?ua=1. Accessed 3 November 2016.
  6. World Health Organization. Surgical Safety Checklist. January 2009. http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/44186/2/9789241598590_eng_Checklist.pdf. Accessed 3 November 2016.


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