“Everything is in your hands”

One year on, the pandemic is not yet defeated. And its aftermaths will be echoing quite for a while. An important lesson to learn: a better prevention and readiness for an immediate response are of a crucial importance. “Infection-free hospitals” project, funded by Romania-Ukraine ENI CBC programme, is carrying out infection prevention activities to reduce epidemiological hazards in the two border municipalities – Ivano-Frankivsk (Ukraine) and Sighetu Marmatiei (Romania). Uliana Sydor, Head of Marketing and Strategic Planning Division of the UNE “Central City Clinical Hospital of the Ivano-Frankivsk City Council”, has explained how the project is contributing to the common struggle.

How did you come up with the idea of the project?

The idea of the “Infection free hospitals” comes from another project – “Joint initiatives and solutions in addressing health in the cross-border Romania-Ukraine” – funded under Hungary-Slovakia-Romania-Ukraine programme, which is now in its final stage. In that project we came to know the hospital in Sighetu Marmatiei, in Romania. We discussed our common challenges and common interests. One of the problems identified was the spreading of infections in hospitals. We discussed how to better protect our medical staff and patients in the hospital environment. We talked about the equipment for better sterilization, the cleaning process, the hospital housing management. But of course, back in 2019, while developing the project, we had no idea about COVID-19. With the outburst of the pandemic, it was obvious that this topic is crucially important. Now we realize that a poor management might have severely affected our patients. And we also understand that we should intensify our work in this sector.

What is the final aim of your project, and who is your main target group?

Our goal is to improve infection prevention and control in the hospitals of Ivano-Frankivsk and Sighetu Marmatiei, and our primary target group is the medical staff: according to the statistics, healthcare workers generally face a high risk of infecting during their routine work in the emergency/trauma triage wards, intensive care units, and so forth. So, the medical staff are in the risk group. Children can also spread infections easier due to their active lifestyle. Thus, our information campaigns focus on families: informing children and their parents about infections is an important step to prevent infection spreading. Besides, children are easier to teach. Moreover, they are very eager to teach their parents!

Launched in January 2020, the project was basically put to test with the outburst of COVID-19. How did it contribute to the fight against the pandemic?

We started the project with the introduction of a new cleaning system in Ivano-Frankivsk hospital, following the experience of our EU counterparts.  It was the first experience in Ukraine of applying different algorisms for cleaning the hospital and the patients’ cabinets. The new system helps to avoid spreading the infection from the patients with COVID-19: good cleaning of the patients’ cabinets ensures that the infection would not flow into the corridors and affect the staff. The project itself was very crucial for the hospital in the pandemic time as it provided quality equipment to minimize the spread of infections. We purchased the equipment for the Ivano-Frankivsk hospital in the months of March and April 2020, marked by the outburst of the pandemic. Several items were bought: two anaesthesia machines with special masks for non-invasive ventilation to prevent spreading infection during surgeries; a drying cabinet thermostatic for sterilizing the equipment; an optical device to swiftly trace the turbidity of a bacterial suspension; and a biological microscope to detect bacteria in the blood. Additionally, we decided to buy three trolleys for medical cleaning, as it is especially important for infection prevention.

You have recently held an awareness-raising campaign in Ivano-Frankivsk on infections prevention. Would you explain why it was important?

The first part of the campaign entitled “Everything is in your hands” took place on 3 December 2020. It was a two-hour event outside our hospital, in the street, which targeted passers-by. We asked people to disinfect their hands and then to test their cleanliness on a special machine. The ultraviolet detected the areas on the palms which were not clean enough if the exercise had not been carried out correctly. We have tested nearly 30 people, and it turned out that disinfecting hands is not as easy as it seems. Most adults believed they knew everything about disinfection, being fairly sure that their hands were clean. But it turned out not to be so: our specialist demonstrated how to correctly use the disinfector to cover all areas of our hands. Thanks to inviting our mayor and the local media, as well as distribution of our promotion materials, we estimate to have reached around 3500 people.

Did you target children as well?

Three weeks later we have prepared a separate activity for children. We went to the local children’s polyclinic bringing the same machine and promotion materials for kids.  26 little patients came to our stand to play the game of hands. They were very interactive. They did not pretend to know everything as adults and were very curious to try. We did not expect that this topic would have brought so many smiles.

Part of the campaign included a conference. What was it about?

The second part of our information campaign targeted the medical staff. We invited doctors, interns, hospital administration to take part in the conference “Infection free hospitals”.  We discussed such topical issues as the state-of-play of our hospital during the pandemic and infection prevention measures implemented – the new cleaning system, patient treatment protocols, lessons learnt over the past year.  Our doctors shared their experience and professional tips. This conference was broadcasted live on our Facebook page to attract more medical staff from other hospitals from Ivano-Frankivsk region and beyond, to share our experience related to COVID-19 and to promote project results.

Has COVID-19 changed your approach to infection prevention?

Yes, the pandemic has definitely changed our approach to the hospital management, starting from the logistics issues and patients flows. A big work has been done on zoning the hospital. We separated the functions of the staff: now the cleaning work and the caring of patients are being performed by separate people. We also understood that modern non-invasive medical devices are of high importance because they considerably lower the risks of infecting during interventions.

How useful was the cooperation between the project partners in the times of pandemic?

The pandemic incited us to learn many things from our Romanian partner. We have learned how they manage COVID and non-COVID patients flows, which treatment methods they use, how they deal with patients’ cabinets, protocols. From the very beginning, the hospital of Sighetu Marmatiei has organised a laboratory for COVID testing. We learned from their experience and prepared a similar lab in Ivano-Frankivsk. And when the vaccination started in Romania, our EU colleagues informed us how it was going among the medical staff, they shared their protocols, explained the procedures. This experience was particularly important as the vaccination in Ukraine should start in a few weeks.

The project is one month away from its finalisation. What is still to be done?

Many of our planned activities have been modified due to the restrictions, for example a series of trainings for the medical staff of the Sighetu Marmatiei and Ivano-Frankivsk hospitals.  Since the presential events are still not allowed, it was decided to hold them online in March. The trainings will be dedicated to specific infection-prevention issues, for example, the problems in antibiotic therapy, the management of the resisting anti-infection agents, modern methods of supporting patients with chronic respiratory insufficiencies. Hopefully, our last event – the Final conference which is planned for the last week of March – will take place physically and we will be able to finally meet our Romanian colleagues.