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Fighting a Deadly Disease Outbreak Among Newborns in Africa

  • March 22, 2010

A recent AmeriCares grant is saving the lives of premature and at-risk babies in Tanzania while promoting the safety of the hospital workers who care for them. Thanks to an emergency grant, AmeriCares partner Bugando Medical Center (BMC) was able to prevent the spread of fatal blood infections in the hospital’s newborn units by purchasing critical supplies. Thirty-nine babies were lost over a 2-month period due to the outbreak.

Once the cause of the infection was found, BMC’s Infection Control and Pediatric teams quickly met to implement a plan to control the spread of infection in the ward and prevent additional deaths. They safely evacuated 19 remaining babies to neighboring wards and thoroughly disinfected the neonatal units. They enforced strict rules limiting the number of people entering the wards and interacting with the newborns. Every visitor and worker was tested to ensure they did not carry infections—not a small undertaking considering more than 7,000 babies are born at BMC each year. 

Most importantly, the hospital required all people handling the babies to wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including a mask, head cap, apron and sterile gloves. These measures immediately reduced the spread of infections and the risks of cross-contamination.

Unfortunately, BMC did not have adequate supplies of all these items to enforce this last requirement.  Supplies that might be taken for granted in the U.S. such as sterile gloves, are prohibitively expensive in Tanzania. As a result, BMC regularly ran out of its supplies of gloves, aprons, masks and other PPEs.

In response to those needs, AmeriCares provided an emergency grant to enable the hospital to purchase the supplies locally. The supplies were quickly delivered and made available to health care workers and family members. According to Francisco Chibunda, Project Coordinator and member of the Infection Prevention and Control committee, “The PPEs from AmeriCares are the key elements for maintaining the newly set standards for preventing cross infections in the units.”

The supplies purchased with the AmeriCares grant protects both health care workers and newborns from sepsis infections. Barrier garments prevent accidental infections from splashes, sharps injuries and chemical exposures, and reduce the chance that a health care worker will carry an infection from one ward to another. AmeriCares is currently implementing a three-year Health Worker Safety Initiative at BMC to create a center of excellence in health care worker safety. Since the initiative began, AmeriCares has delivered over $65,000 worth of gloves and masks to BMC – and more medical aid is in the pipeline.

Reflecting on the impact of the AmeriCares grant, Chibunda said, “Now the units do not have any shortage of medical supplies—thanks to AmeriCares quick response to this emergency.”

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