Shanti works for a small family health center in rural Nepal. Every day, she cleaned the operating room with her bare hands – gathering blood-soaked linens for laundering and collecting soiled hypodermic needles and other instruments for cleaning. Her work placed her at risk of exposure to many infectious diseases.
Now, with the help of EngenderHealth, Shanti's clinic has adopted new practices that protect workers and clients alike. One simple but dramatic result is the availability of powdered chlorine bleach, which, when mixed with water, rapidly kills deadly viruses. Initially this product was costly and hard to obtain in Nepal, but EngenderHealth worked with a local contraceptive retailer to set up a system for importing bulk supplies of bleach from India. Today, inexpensive packets are available everywhere in Nepal – in pharmacies and in local marketplaces. They are used not only in family planning clinics, but in all types of health centers.
Infection prevention practices reduce the spread of infections in health care settings and create a climate of safety so that health workers feel they can provide care, and clients are willing to seek care without risking their health.
Many people believe that preventing infections must be an expensive and time-consuming process, but EngenderHealth has worked successfully with health professionals in many low-resource service sites to develop immediate solutions that minimize risks of infection using low-cost approaches and available materials. EngenderHealth has published a number of materials on infection prevention practices in low-resource settings.
Imagine the risks you would face as caregiver or client in a health clinic that lacks running water, fuel, and a reliable way to clean instruments or get supplies. And imagine the dangers to the community if your clinic can't safely dispose of used needles, bandages, and medical waste – especially when poverty forces local children and adults to routinely scavenge in waste areas.
EngenderHealth has developed a number of low-tech, low-resource innovations that can have a profound effect on preventing the spread of infection. These innovations are grounded, not in theory, but in a practical, first-hand understanding of the challenges faced by health care workers throughout the developing world.
For example, in Bangladesh, EngenderHealth helped develop a simple, portable steam sterilizer that allows health care workers who travel between clinics to sterilize IUD instruments. In the past, it was difficult for them to transport equipment, obtain fuel and clean water, and find the time to boil and cool instruments.
And in Nepal, EngenderHealth helped design a simple waste-disposal technique for used needles, syringes, and scalpel blades that can be employed in almost any setting. By burning these "sharps" in a metal container, the plastics form a solid block that helps prevent injuries to scavengers and eliminates the possibility of re-use.
As these examples illustrate, even small, low-tech innovations can make a real difference in protecting the safety of caregivers, health care clients, and the communities in which they live.
Spreading the Word
EngenderHealth conducts training in infection prevention in clinics and hospitals around the world. But to help spread the word about our low-cost, low-resource infection prevention techniques and approaches, we have also developed a range of both traditional and interactive training materials in infection prevention that can reach even more health care workers worldwide.
Providers can use EngenderHealth's infection prevention handbook to review how to prevent infections where resources are limited. The handbook emphasizes simple, low-cost techniques such as hand washing, processing instruments, use of gloves, proper handling of used needles and syringes, and disposal of medical waste. It is relevant to any facility and is designed for a broad range of health workers.
To order any of EngenderHealth's infection prevention materials, please see our Publications & Resources.