Preventing hospital-acquired infections in eastern Ukraine saves lives

To reduce the risk of infections acquired in hospitals, WHO is scaling up support to health facilities in the conflict-affected regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine.

Ensuring a supply of sterilization equipment and training the health workforce are key to this objective. WHO recently supplied 2 pressure chambers for sterilization (called autoclaves), disinfection machinery and furniture to the Luhansk Regional Children’s Hospital with financial support from the Government of Japan.

“Success of infection prevention and control in health facilities is always due to multiple factors,” explains Dr Marthe Everard, WHO Representative in Ukraine. “Better equipment is essential to improve the quality of disinfection; however, simple things such as hand hygiene and safe waste management can make a great impact on patients’ safety.”

Up to 40% of patients at risk in Ukraine

Despite the lack of reliable data on health care-associated infections in Ukraine, WHO estimates that up to 40% of patients contract infectious diseases while receiving medical care. Specialized forms of health care, such as surgeries, impose a greater risk of exposure to infections for both patients and health-care workers.

The WHO Health Emergencies Programme in Ukraine assessed infection prevention and control capacities in the health facilities of 2 conflict-affected regions, Donetsk and Luhansk. It identified areas for improvement, such as prevention practices and the disinfection of infrastructure.

Addressing equipment and infrastructure for better infection prevention

Due to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the administration and part of the staff of Luhansk Regional Children’s Hospital had to relocate from the non-government controlled regional centre, the city of Luhansk, to the government-controlled area in 2015. The Hospital was re-established in the premises of the health facility in the town of Lysychansk. There, it serves almost 108 000 children, about 25 000 of whom are internally displaced.

“The average age of the sterilization equipment in the Hospital was 30 years, the quality of disinfection was poor and maintenance expenses were high,” says Dr Svitlana Sheika, Chief Physician of Luhansk Regional Children’s Hospital. “The humanitarian support from WHO is a revival of the Hospital. New equipment provides doctors with confidence that the instruments and materials they need will be sterilized properly and on time.”

Improving the skills of health-care workers

“The mission of the health-care staff is to make sure that the best knowledge and practices are at the service of their patients,” says Dr Rolanda Valinteliene, WHO Consultant from the Vilnius Institute of Hygiene.

In October, Dr Valinteliene and her colleague from the Kyiv National Medical Academy of Postgraduate Education conducted 4 training sessions on infection prevention and control for 150 health-care professionals working in the conflict-affected regions. Over 90% of the participants reported that they have benefited from this training.

“It is very important that people in hospitals know their role in infection prevention. The decisions made by health managers define what prevention measures will be introduced, but their actual implementation very much depends on the attitude and behaviour of doctors and nurses,” Dr Valinteliene concludes.

“WHO is planning to continue its work on the improvement of infection control, especially in the secondary and tertiary health-care institutions,” Dr Everard says. “To decrease health care-related infections, we have to make sure that all the hospitals are reinforced with necessary equipment and the best knowledge.”