WHO calls for global action on sepsis

16 September 2020

Article: 54/3705

The World Health Organization (WHO) has published its first global report on sepsis, a preventable, life-threatening condition marked by severe organ dysfunction. Sepsis disproportionately affects vulnerable populations, such as newborns, pregnant women and people living in low-resource settings. Almost half of the 49 million cases of sepsis each year occur among children, resulting in 2.9 million deaths, many of which could be prevented through early diagnosis and appropriate clinical management. The report also finds that sepsis frequently results from infections acquired in health care settings, with around half of patients with sepsis in intensive care units having acquired the infection in hospital.

The WHO states that improved sanitation, water quality and availability, and infection prevention and control measures can prevent sepsis and save lives, but should be coupled with early diagnosis, appropriate clinical management, and access to safe and affordable medicines and vaccines.

The WHO calls for the following measures to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of sepsis: 

  • Improve robust study designs and high-quality data collection, especially in low- and middle-income countries. 
  • Scale-up global advocacy, funding and the research capacity for epidemiological evidence on the true burden of sepsis. 
  • Improve surveillance systems, starting at the primary care level, including the use of standardized and feasible definitions in accordance with the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), and leveraging existing programmes and disease networks. 
  • Develop rapid, affordable and appropriate diagnostic tools, particularly for primary and secondary levels of care, to improve sepsis identification, surveillance, prevention and treatment.
  • Engage and better educate health workers and communities not to underestimate the risk of infections evolving to sepsis, and to seek care promptly in order to avoid clinical complications and the spread of epidemics.

Source: WHO, 8 September 2020