Poor conditions putting healthcare workers at risk

February 18, 2014

A new study has suggested that millions of healthcare workers are at risk because of the neglectful conditions they are working in.

According to the research, which was presented at the 2014 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), negative working habits are increasing the chances of workers contracting infections in developing countries.

However, this is not just limited to one region, as it is estimated 59 million healthcare workers offer their skills in substandard living conditions where they are exposed to various infectious diseases including tuberculosis (TB), the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and hepatitis, because of poor working practices and the lack of proper equipment such as safety medical devices. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), South Africans are 300 times more likely to contract TB than Americans, reports News Medical.

"In addition to massive workloads, healthcare workers in developing countries are more likely to get sick from the workplace," lead researcher Dr. Annalee Yassi, professor at the University of British Columbia's (UBC) School of Population and Public Health, said in a statement. 

Dr Yassi and her team from UBC conducted a study of more than 1,000 healthcare professionals from three South African hospitals in 2012. Nearly a fifth (18 per cent) of the population are HIV-positive, but it was found that many hospital workers fail to comply with basic practices that are proven to reduce the risk of infection.

Essential protocol, such as recapping needles, washing hands and using medical gloves, were often ignored by healthcare workers in the region. Results determined that a fifth (20 per cent) of hospital staff have reported a needlestick injury or unprotected exposure to a patient’s bodily fluid.

Indicating that negative working practices are rife in developing countries, the research found that nearly three-quarters (68 per cent) of the 1,000 hospital workers participating in the study, had never been screened for TB. While more than a fifth hadn't had the necessary vaccinations - including the hepatitis vaccination. 

Dr Yassi highlighted that much has been done to reduce the risk of infection including "better standard operating procedures and screening" but added that there was more that needed to be done to "ensure a healthy workplace for the international health care workforce".

She is also currently working with the WHO to introduce appropriate occupational health guidelines for healthcare workers in underdeveloped countries.

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