Australian support to UNICEF helps improve hand hygiene at Community Health Centres
Regular handwashing with soap helps with infection prevention and control at health facilities
Viqueque, 11th May 2023 - It is more than 26 years since Dwi Rahayu graduated from Midwifery School. Decades later, Dwi still holds dearly to the lessons which were taught at school, especially the lessons on infection prevention and control through regular handwashing.
“We were taught that without proper hygiene and sanitation practices in place, patients and health professionals’ risk of being infected by many diseases, which are at the facility, increases” says Dwi, who now heads the Ante natal Unit at the Viqueque Community Health Centre.
“On a daily basis, we attend to more than 20 patients in this ward and there is always close contact and touching of the patients during examinations. Without good hygiene and sanitation practices, such as handwashing with soap, there is a huge risk of getting infections from a patient to myself and from myself to another patients,” says Dwi, who says handwashing among the nurses is a non-negotiable priority in the ward she manages.
Since 2000 when Dwi was deployed at Viqueque Community Health Centre (CHC), this basic practice of handwashing has been a huge undertaking for Dwi and her colleagues due to limited facilities at the CHC. Handwashing could only be done in the toilet as that is the only place that had a hand washing basin with water.
“This was also the only toilet at the health centre and it was shared by both the health professionals and the patients. We often had to wait for long to get our chance to access the toilet to wash our hands after attending to a patient,” says Dwi, as she remembers the difficulties faced when water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) are neglected at the health facility.
While data on WASH services in health facilities is yet to be updated in line with global monitoring indicators pertaining to the Sustainable Development Goals, anecdotal and observations at health facilities show the grim picture of the potential risks faced by patients and health professionals due to the inadequate coverage of water and sanitation facilities.
Without water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities within proximity of the workstations, precious time is lost in trying to reach the handwashing basin, while the risk of nurses forgoing this process altogether, puts both the nurses and the patients at constant risk.
UNICEF Timor-Leste has recently supported eight Community Health Centres across two Municipalities (Viqueque and Ermera) to improve access to basic water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities as well as disability access to sanitation and hygiene. Moreover, disability access to WASH is being improved in 4 more CHCs in Ainaro and Aileu. This support is financed by the Government of Australia through UNICEF Australia.
Across all the wards at the five health centres in Viqueque, handwashing basins have been fixed and connected to tapped running water, making handwashing accessible at every point where patients are being attended to.
Moreover, dedicated disabled friendly toilets with internal handwashing have been provided to 4 CHCs in Viqueque and 3 CHCs in Ermera.
Handwashing stations for patients have also been set up at the entrance of the facility and patients are reminded to wash their hands before entering the facility.
Congestion at the toilets has also been eased through the building of disability friendly toilets, while water storage facilities are helping to ensure the constant flow of water for handwashing and for use in the toilets.
This support from the Australian Government could not have come at a better time as the recent outbreak of COVID-19 has made both the health professionals and the patients fully aware of the importance of hand hygiene to prevent the spreads of infections.
“Since last year, handwashing is now just a few steps away from where we treat patients. This is making our work much easier, and it is giving patients the reassurance that they are in a protected environment,” says Dwi, as she makes sure she is well sanitised before attending to a new patient.
Regularly washing her hands before and after attending to patients has not only helped Dwi to protect herself from infection, but has helped model an exemplary practice, which all the nurses in the ward are today following.