New platform to prevent HIV infections in hospitals

New app will protect health staff from HIV when handling infected patients. FILE PHOTO | NMG
New app will protect health staff from HIV when handling infected patients. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Healthcare facilities in remote parts of Kenya face the challenge of equipment exposing health workers to cross contamination risks due to lack of an aftercare system.

The exposure at hospitals may result from accidental pricks by contaminated needle sticks, cuts from soiled surgical blades or blood splashes from HIV infected patients.

If not dealt with immediately, the accidental exposure to contaminated blood may lead to healthcare personnel contracting the infections.

To control this, the Ministry of Health has employed technology in the form of a platform known as Care for Carers (C4C).

The platform enables health workers to get timely medical care after accidentally coming into contact with patients’ blood or body fluids that could be contaminated with HIV.

The app specifically makes it easier for these people to access and adhere to HIV prevention drugs known as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) that minimise the risk of infection by over 80 per cent among people exposed to the virus.

The PEP drugs attack the virus and kill it before it can multiply in the body and cause HIV disease.

It is usually taken daily for about one month (28 days). But for the drug to work effectively, the initial dose should be administered within 72 hours from the time someone is exposed to the HIV virus.

“So the time PEP is initiated and the completion of the recommended dose is of great importance. And this new platform will help us with that,” said Dr Martin Sirengo, head of the National Aids and STI Control Programme (Nascop).

The innovation, which was developed by Nascop and M-health Kenya, is being rolled out in different counties. Those already covered include Meru, Murang’a, Embu, Turkana and Kisumu.

Hospital employees are required to log into the C4C platform and go through the registration process which captures relevant personal information, employment details and other demographic data.

“All health workers exposed to HIV while undertaking their duties are advised to report the incidence swiftly using the C4C app,” said Japheth Gituku, programme manager for infection prevention and control at Nascop.

The system will then offer step-by-step advice, based on recommended MOH guidelines, on what affected healthcare workers need to do to access PEP and other appropriate medical services.

It also sends follow-up messages that encourage affected employees to adhere to PEP drugs and report any challenges they may be facing such as side-effects linked to these medicines.

“They can communicate through the C4C app and receive help swiftly irrespective of where they are based,” Mr Gituku said.

Once the PEP drugs have been completed, health workers are required to go for HIV screening tests twice within a six month period (at intervals of three months).

Those with negative test results in both occasions are confirmed to be HIV free.

“Before, many people would forget to honour these screening appointments. But thanks to the app, they are now able to receive timely reminders on the same.”

The C4C platform can also enable the government — at both the national and county level — to get real time data on HIV exposure incidents in various health facilities across the country, their causes, as well as hospital departments (such as theatre, maternity or laboratory) where most exposures take place.

This information allows policy makers to identify existing safety gaps in hospitals and move in to sensitise health workers on effective strategies to cut infections in the work place.

The C4C platform also offers an e-library with useful up-to-date information on the effective management and control of HIV.

The app, which can be downloaded from Android’s Google play store, is currently being used by health workers only.

But Dr Sirengo stated that in future, further advances can be made on the innovation to make it available to other members of the public.