Health experts have identified hand washing as a major preventive measure against the spread of viral diseases, especially in health institutions.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) launched the ‘Turn Nigeria Orange’ Project to strengthen the culture of hand hygiene and Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) in healthcare institutions across the country.
The NCDC launched the project on Saturday at the University Teaching Hospital, Abuja, to mark this year’s Handwashing Day celebrated on May 5.
It aims at helping health facilities set up IPC programmes, starting with making handwashing a norm, organisers said.
The project was launched by Lanre Tejuoso, Chairman Senate Committee on Health.
The senator said the federal government is concerned over the recent spate of healthcare-associated infections.
“No healthcare worker in Nigeria should risk his or her life in the discharge of duties in saving the lives of Nigerians. We will work together to strengthen the capacity of our healthcare institutions to keep our healthcare workers safe as they work to protect the lives of Nigerians”.
The Director-General of NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu, at a press briefing before the launch, attributed the spread of diseases in the country to unhygienic practices in health facilities.
“As medical practitioners, our first obligation is to do no harm before treating patients,” he said. “If we cannot wash our hands from seeing one patient to the next, what inevitably happens is that we take whatever one patients have to 100 other patients that we touch in every day during our practice.
“This is why the goal of this programme is to ensure that all health facilities have the minimum standard for hand hygiene,” Mr Ihekweazu said.
He said health workers may get infected if they do not take proper preventive measures when treating a patient.
Health worker’s ordeal
Health workers are most times secondary victims who get infected while treating patients of infectious diseases.
The first Lassa fever case last year was confirmed in Ebonyi State when four people, including three health workers, died from the infection.
Between 2005 and 2018, the infection claimed over 40 health workers in Ebonyi, according to the state chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA).
The Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES early last year said health workers are vulnerable to infectious diseases because of poor preventive measures and lack of full disclosure of symptoms by patients.
“You know what happened to Patrick Sawyer? He lost his relation to Ebola, yet when he got to the hospital in Lagos, he denied and the people didn’t know”, the minister said.
Nigeria recorded its first Ebola case when Mr Sawyer, a Liberian-American, flew into the country’s most populous city, Lagos.
All Nigerian health professionals who treated Mr Sawyer subsequently died of the disease.
According to the Center for Disease Control, hand hygiene is the most effective way to prevent the spread of dangerous germs, like Ebola virus.
The NCDC boss said during the Ebola outbreak, there was the widespread practice of hand washing in Nigeria. “we were trying to do the right thing by washing hands but after that, we went back to the old ways.”
Hand Hygiene: Project turn Nigeria orange
Tochukwu Okor, IPC lead at the NCDC, gave a breakdown of the ‘turn Nigeria Orange’ project.
“The turn Nigeria Orange is a brainchild of NCDC to get IPC institutionalised in the country. It’s key to getting hand hygiene to become the norm and we want to achieve that by supporting every health facility in Nigeria.
“We have started working with health facilities and we help them set up an IPC programme. For those like the University of Abuja that already has a programme, we help them strengthen it.
“How we do that is by getting every health facility to conduct a baseline assessment of IPC in the facility and hygiene assessment with the intention of understanding what the gaps are and to develop action plan annually which will now guide the implementation of IPC plan.
“This year we already have 22 facilities across three tiers of health institutions in who have already completed IPC hand hygiene assessment and we are finishing up an action plan to take us for the next one year. The more we engage the more we get into the orange zone. Over the next five years, we want to cover at least 60 per cent of facilities of the country.”
Nicholas Bamlong, who represented the Chief Medical Director of the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, explained that there are gaps in the existing IPC programme in the hospital.
“Despite all efforts, there are still lots of gaps and lapses. We can train people today and it will be as if we have not even trained them tomorrow. The mentality of our staff needs to improve,” he noted.
Prevention Cheaper than Cure
Mr Tejuoso, who has come to be known for championing the Basic Health Provision Fund (BHCPF), decried Nigeria’s poor funding for health.
“Prevention is cheaper than cure. Since Nigeria is struggling with the fund, why don’t we make noise about prevention”, the senator said. “It’s cheaper for us and it works.”
“There is a lot of noise about family planning and I can remember the honourable minister launching the green project about two years ago and he told us at that launching that any PHC (Primary health centre) we go to and see a green dot, we can access necessary information and interventions on family planning there.
“I believe the minister shall now include ‘Orange dot’ on every PHCs to train our health workers and patients on hygiene and prevention because this is definitely what we need to reduce what we spend in treating diseases.
“Hand hygiene as simple as it may sound is a very important aspect of life because most of the diseases are spread through the hands. As a champion of this initiative, I will ensure that everybody gets involved, from the president down to the local government councillor”, Mr Tejuoso noted.