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  • The Ministry of Health is renewing its focus on infection control and sanitation in healthcare facilities, in a bid to further reduce the deaths of premature babies in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU).
  • This follows the recent outbreak of four cases of healthcare associated infections (HCAI) at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) and the Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH).
  • The infections are caused by the klebsiella and serratia bacteria and have led to the deaths of 18 premature babies since June of this year.

The Ministry of Health is renewing its focus on infection control and sanitation in healthcare facilities, in a bid to further reduce the deaths of premature babies in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU).

This follows the recent outbreak of four cases of healthcare associated infections (HCAI) at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) and the Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH).

The infections are caused by the klebsiella and serratia bacteria and have led to the deaths of 18 premature babies since June of this year.

The revelation was made at a press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister in Kingston on Tuesday, October 20.

Addressing the press conference, Portfolio Minister, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, said the Ministry will be strengthening infection prevention and control measures, despite the fact that there are standard protocols and procedures in place specific to maternity, operating theatre, neonatal units, intensive care and accident and emergency (MONIA) to guide these practices.

In this vein, he said the Ministry has engaged a medical microbiologist at the central level, who is charged with visiting and working with facilities to ensure that these practices are kept at a standard that is acceptable.

The Minister further said that routine audits will be carried out to ensure that practices are maintained and are in keeping with the standards.

“The Microbiologist at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) has also been conducting training sessions with the teams. Foot operated hand washing stations are being installed in several hospitals as part of measures to improve infection control,” he said.

Dr. Ferguson also noted that a team from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), including an advisor on infection prevention and control, is scheduled to arrive in the island today.  He said the Ministry is also in touch with the Caribbean Public Health Agency, which is on standby to give any assistance that may be required.

The Minister expressed support for the affected families and pointed out that counselling remains an option, if they so desire.

For her part, National Epidemiologist, Dr. Karen Webster Kerr, said while outbreaks in special care nurseries occur from time to time, increased sanitary measures are being undertaken to ensure neonatal areas are kept clean.

She said infection prevention and control measures include: increased monitoring of hand washing practices; re-education and training of hospital staff; orientation and training for parents; increased cleaning frequency of special care nursery; patient/staff/parent movements restricted, as well as the restriction of items allowed in the nursery.

She informed that several swabs were taken of items within the units as well as from staff members, in an effort to identify the possible source of infection.

Dr. Webster Kerr noted that of the infected babies at the Cornwall Regional Hospital, 73 per cent of them who were of the gestational age of seven months or older survived.  At the University Hospital of the West Indies, all babies who were older than seven months of the gestational age survived. A total of 42 babies were infected at both facilities.

In the meantime, Dr. Ferguson said the Ministry has begun implementation of the four-year Programme for the Reduction of Maternal and Child Mortality (PROMAC), under which Jamaica was allocated $2.8 billion (€22 million) by the European Union.

He informed that under this programme, the country, within the next three years, will be equipped with state-of-the-art neonatal and maternal high dependency units, and that training will also be provided for staff who will be working in these areas.

The Minister said these undertakings form part of efforts to bring some of the island’s facilities up to 21st century standards and introduce new technologies that are now available.

The objectives of PROMAC include reducing the incidence of neonatal deaths due to inadequate access to high dependency care; and reducing the incidence of maternal deaths due to inadequate access to emergency obstetric care.