One of the critical challenges facing sub-Saharan Africa’s struggling health infrastructure is its dwindling healthcare workforce. Those who remain work in often unsafe conditions while struggling to care for patients and are at high risk of exposure to life-threatening bloodborne pathogens such as HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. But now the UVA Health System’s International Healthcare Worker Safety Center (IHWSC) is playing a pivotal role in creating a model environment for health workers in one of Africa’s most impoverished countries, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The new Center of Excellence in Occupational Safety for Health Workers at Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital (BMMH) in Kinshasa, DRC, “addresses a critical but often overlooked and underfunded component of health system strengthening and HIV/AIDS relief – protecting healthcare workers from occupational infections,” says Janine Jagger, PhD, director of the UVA IHWSC.
The new center in Africa will provide training to Congolese healthcare workers in the EPINet sharps injury surveillance program, developed by Jagger in 1991. Data from EPINet will be used to establish an evidence-based prevention program for Congolese health workers.
Jagger, Elayne Kornblatt Phillips, PhD, and Ginger Parker, MBA, of UVA IHWSC, Department of Medicine, traveled to the DRC in August for the opening ceremonies
of the new occupational safety center at BMMH. The hospital, a 300-bed acute-care facility located in one of the most impoverished and densely populated areas of Kinshasa, was founded by NBA player Dikembe Mutombo in 2007 and named in memory of his mother. Mutombo has been widely recognized for his international charitable work, especially in Africa and his home country of DRC.
During their visit, Jagger and Phillips lectured on strategies for African healthcare worker protection, and Phillips participated in a national symposium on occupational health held in conjunction with the BMMH center’s opening. Parker conducted hands-on EPINet training workshops for BMMH employees. A collaborative research project
with BMMH’s occupational health director, Dr. Pascal Mputu Mputu, was also launched.
UVA’s IHWSC, a worldwide leader in research and education on occupational exposure prevention in healthcare settings, is partnering with BD and the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation (DMF) in supporting the new occupational safety center. Jagger, a MacArthur Foundation fellow, comments: “We are privileged to work with the DMF and BD in this pioneering effort. We hope to demonstrate that the high risk to health workers common in African healthcare settings can be greatly improved with evidence-based policies and administrative support.”
In addition to Mutombo, who retired this past spring after an 18-year career in the NBA, participants in the ceremonies included DRC Minister of Health Mwami Mopipi Mukulumany, UNICEF executive director Ann Veneman, and BD Executive Vice President Gary Cohen. BD is a global medical device company and a founding supporter of the Occupational Safety Center.
In an NBA.com press release, Mutombo remarked: “The doctors and nurses at the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital are saving lives every day and helping improve health care in the DRC, which has been ravaged by more than a decade of war and disease.” He called the new occupational safety center an “important milestone” in training healthcare workers to protect both patients and themselves from the spread of disease.