Fiji told to improve medical supply chain after 20 babies die

22 August 2017

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended Fiji strengthen its medical supply chain as part of measures to fight a superbug outbreak in the country’s main hospital.

The WHO, on request of Fiji’s Ministry of Health, deployed a team of three specialists to conduct an assessment to try and identify the source of a bacteria, aceinetobacter baumannii bacterium, after more than 20 babies infected died at the CWM Hospital's neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU) in the first six months of this year.

The report said that although the specialists were unable to find the source, the bacteria had been present in the NICU since 2015.

Speaking at a press conference, Philip Davis, permanent secretary for the Ministry of Health, said the WHO’s report found the processes for purchasing and distributing medicine and equipment in the country had been inadequate, leading to the eventual outbreak. 

“The WHO is quite clear in its conclusion that there were systematic infrastructure issues which contributed to the outbreak occurring and prevented its [the bacteria’s] early elimination,” he said.

“The most obvious of those issues is inadequacy in the provision of some items needed for effective control of infections in the hospital setting—things like single-use respiratory equipment, protective clothing and supplies and equipment needed to help with regular and thorough handwashing among staff and visitors.” 

Davis added when the review team discussed their findings, they commented that staff were generally aware of the importance of implementing infection prevention but did not have access to the right equipment.

“Staff knew what they were doing but the fact that they didn’t have access to the supplies and equipment they needed, meant that sometimes they were accustomed to ‘making do’ and they were unable to do what they knew they should,” he said. 

Corinne Capuan, director of Pacific Technical Support for WHO, said improving the supply chain would prevent single-use equipment from being reused and stop bacterial infections from spreading to vulnerable patients in hospitals. 

“There is a long list of recommendations but basically some of them are related to the supply system to ensure that the staff have enough equipment and material they can then use that is properly cleaned,” she said.

“So one is on the supply system, the other one more on the training of staff to make sure they understand the importance of infection prevention practices and good practices.” 

Davis said the Fiji Ministry of Health had now assigned an officer to liaise between the hospital and the Pharmaceutical Service, which is responsible for the purchase and distribution of medical supplies.

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