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Is Infection Control Crucial to Better Health Care?
Posted on Oct 28, 2014 by Rob Kellaghan
A look at how improved infection prevention techniques can lead to a higher standard of health care.
When a cut or injury becomes infected, it simply serves to compound the medical problems the patient is already facing. But what if we were to pick up an infection in hospital? And, to make matters worse, what if contracting this infection was entirely preventable?
At the recent Patient Safety Middle East Exhibition and Conference, which took place in Dubai, experts from across the UAE region and America convened to discuss the alarming rise in patients contracting infection and sometimes disease from their hospital bed. This is a global phenomenon, as highlighted by the large number of countries and medical centers represented at the conference; however, a number of Emirati hospitals and their management teams came in for stinging criticism for not doing enough to prevent the spread of infection within their facilities.
What is infection?
Infection is, by definition, an invasion of tissues by agents and bacteria which cause a reaction in the host’s body. This reaction can cause illness and disease. Infections commonly affect patients who have had invasive surgery, or those who have an illness or condition which has weakened their immune system, allowing the infected bacteria to take hold and multiply.
Earlier this year, an outbreak of the MERS virus affected 37 people in the UAE, all of whom were health workers. There have been periodic outbreaks of MERS since 2012, and in total some 536 people worldwide have contracted the disease.
As all of the UAE’s 37 Mers patients were in Abu Dhabi, its hospitals and medical centers came under scrutiny: how had their facilities become breeding grounds for the virus? Cleanliness and cleaning practices were reviewed, and many hospitals were urged to review their infection control practices.
Delegates attending the Patient Safety Middle East Exhibition and Conference criticised many hospitals for their poor record in tackling infection control, and suggested adopting new infection control programmes to educate staff and patients on the importance of cleanliness. Certain medical centers were also urged to increase investment in infection control practices as many perceive it to be a waste of money.
One of the biggest criticisms to emerge from the conference concerned the lack of cooperation among medical teams and staff in identifying and addressing hygiene problems. Some lower level cleaning staff and nurses were reluctant to highlight problems in case they were blamed, while some doctors were accused of refusing to listen to or adopt advice from colleagues.
All medical staff, from cleaners to physicians, must set an example by making ongoing hygiene and cleanliness a priority. They need to be made aware that by doing their job properly and making ongoing hygiene and cleanliness a priority, they are protecting both themselves and their patients from contracting infection.
Which patients are most at risk?
Any patient that undergoes surgery is at an increased risk of catching what is called a “surgery site infection.” In the UAE, caesarean section is one of the most common surgical procedures, meaning that pregnant women are at high risk of infection. The notion that a pregnant woman can undergo surgery and then become ill is troubling many of the UAE’s medical consultants. In addition, women that contract an infection after surgery are likely to remain in hospital for up one month, as opposed to an average stay of seven days, thus placing additional strain on medical resources.
How patients can help themselves
Overcrowded hospitals are among the biggest breeding grounds for infections and viruses. Patients can help to protect themselves from infection in hospitals by ensuring they have comprehensive medical insurance coverage. If a hospital procedure or overnight stay is required, they may be able to opt for a private room at one of the UAE’s more attractive and reputable medical facilities.
Additionally, hand hygiene dispensers should be used regularly by all medical staff and the patient, while all visitors should clean their hands upon entering and leaving the hospital. If medical staff, patients and visitors cooperate and work together in adopting good infection prevention techniques, hospitals in the UAE can become the safe medical facilities they aspire to be.