March 20th – Happy birthday, Didier!

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For us, the Semmelweis Foundation, the 20th of March is a remarkable date in two ways: First it reminds us the 20th of March 1849, when Ignaz Semmelweis was obliged to leave the obstetrical clinic of the General Hospital Vienna. But this date also awakes positive associations: The 20th of March is the birthday of Didier Pittet (WHO Initiative Clean Hands Save Lives, and great admirer of Semmelweis).

A few days ago – in the course of the Semmelweis-Film-shooting* we have been at the court 8 of the former General Hospital. This was the place where Semmelweis worked. On March, 20th 1849 his term expired and his contract was not prolonged. We all know the background: Semmelweis discovered that hand-washing with chlorinated lime solution reduced the incidence of childbed fever in the obstetrical clinic, but the reaction of his contemporaries was not positive. The most of the colleagues could not accept his ideas of “minuscule and largely invisible amounts of decaying organic matter” as cause of childbed fever. Some doctors, for instance, were offended at the suggestion that they should wash their hands, feeling that their social status as gentlemen was inconsistent with the idea that their hands could be unclean. Unbelievable.
But what’s even more incredible is the fact, that we still have a problem with hand hygiene in the hospitals. Filming directly in front of the building where Semmelweis worked, makes the absurdity of this truth even more aware.
As you maybe know, March 20th is also the World Storytelling day. And we, the Semmelweis Foundation, want to take advantage of this opportunity to point to the Semmelweis story once again and to say “Happy birthday, Didier”!
* The Semmelweis film will be demonstrated in the course of the symposium 200 years Semmelweis, June 21st , at 1 p.m. Hörsaalzentrum of the Medicine University Vienna, free entry

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Carola Timmel is journalist for print and radio and professional speaker. Her focus lies on the topic Medicine & Health.

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