Infection Prevention and Control Professionals – The Force Behind Stopping the Spread of Infections

It’s safe to say that an emphasis on infection prevention has been at the forefront of public health. However, infection prevention is broader than the needs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Healthcare associated infections are a persistent issue in Canada. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), more than 200,000 hospitalized patients acquire an infection while receiving care each year.[1] HAIs result in longer hospital stays and increased morbidity and mortality in hospitalized patients.[2] With HAIs posing a concern to patients and healthcare facilities, it’s important to recognize the devoted professionals who help ensure that all healthcare workers are taking the necessary precautions to limit the spread of infections.

For 15 years, Infection Prevention and Control Canada (IPAC Canada) has hosted a fundraiser, sponsored in part by SC Johnson Professional. This event, which is being hosted virtually this year, asks IPAC Canada members and their colleagues to raise money through sponsors to aid the IPAC Canada Scholarship. The Scholarship allows Infection Control Professionals from under-funded or under-resourced countries to attend the International Federation of Infection Control (IFIC) education meeting to stay updated with new trends in infection control and provide more educated perspectives to their colleagues at home.

Continue reading to find out how this scholarship has impacted the careers of essential Infection prevention and control professionals or ICPs (also known as Infection Preventionists) contributed to their role during the pandemic, and how you can participate in the 2021 IFIC Fundraiser.

The Role of Infection Prevention and Control Professionals

Infection prevention and control professionals are health professionals, including nurses, doctors, microbiologists, public health professionals and epidemiologists. They’re evaluators, prevention experts and educators who do their absolute best to keep patients, visitors and healthcare employees safe. The role and expertise of ICPs are continuously growing and evolving, which is why it’s important to provide access to education.

The role of ICPs is unique, and their first priority is keeping everyone in the healthcare environment safe. Combining their knowledge of best practices to prevent the spread of infection with their knowledge of HAI occurrences in a healthcare setting allows them to offer a different and more educated perspective when:

  • Observing procedures: ICPs observe infection prevention practices in healthcare settings to help ensure that everyone is following the rules to avoid the spread of HAIs and COVID-19. This includes reviewing hand hygiene practices or data from electronic hand hygiene monitoring systems, assessing cleaning protocols on items such as catheters and indwelling devices, making sure patient rooms and equipment that is used on a patient will be cleaned, and confirming personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn at the right times, especially if patients are in isolation.
  • Educating healthcare teams: By observing infection prevention practices, ICPs can provide feedback to educate healthcare teams and advise hospital leaders on which areas need improvement. They observe practices, educate healthcare teams, advise hospital leaders and also coordinate with public health agencies on a local and national level.
  • Providing direction: With their expertise, ICPs use infection data to develop and evaluate strategies, policies, and procedures to prevent widespread infections within healthcare settings.

The Importance of Education

With the onset of a new pandemic and the rise of more antibiotic-resistant infections, infection prevention and control professionals around the world are continuing to educate themselves on the ever-evolving research in infection control as well as new products and interventions that become available. Access to education is not always obtainable, especially in countries with fragile health systems and constrained funding opportunities. However, it is important to continue to provide access to this education.

Dr. Oyapero Afolabi is a infection prevention and control professional and now director of infection control and the coordinator for the COVID-19 infection prevention and control at Lagos State University College of Medicine in Lagos, Nigeria. He was awarded the IFIC scholarship in 2019 and found it helped positively shape his career:

The scholarship facilitated my full participation in the joint IFIC/IPAC Canada conference where I gave an oral presentation in 2019. I was equipped with adequate information and networked with specialists in the field who have since become my mentors. This had a positive impact on my career. I learned that challenges such as irregular water supply, inadequate sinks for handwashing and deficient waste disposal facilities should not be seen only as a threat but as an opportunity to innovate and engage decision-makers with data to produce changes. I have since been involved in the training of other health personnel and the development of protocols which have been implemented with excellent results.”

Not only did the scholarship and education positively impact his career, but it also prepared Dr. Afolabi to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic:

“I have been able to use the principles of standard precaution as well as the lessons I learned at the conference to conduct several trainings for undergraduate and postgraduate students as well as the faculty members on infection control at the onset of the pandemic. I also developed the guidelines used in our clinic facilities for triaging, social distancing, evidence-based use of PPEs and monitoring and evaluation of sterilizations and environmental control, among others. Cases of Covid-19 were kept to the bare minimum by these initiatives.”

Preparing for the Future

COVID-19 showed the world just how fragile healthcare systems were and increased the need to improve infection prevention plans. Infection prevention and control professionals played a key role in the changes that hospitals and healthcare systems made in response to this pandemic.

As Dr. Afolabi mentioned, the IFIC scholarship provides a platform for ICPs to attend the prestigious and unique IFIC conference. It gives those in underfunded countries the opportunity to attend the conference and be introduced to evidence-based guidelines, cutting-edge technologies, and practical solutions in resource-limited settings. It also provides them with an opportunity to network and gain mentors.

We must remember that the importance of infection prevention strategies must not end with the pandemic. Infection prevention and control professionals will always be essential personnel in healthcare settings in order to help keep patients, employees and the public safe from infections, which is why access to education is critical.

For more information, or to register to participate in the 2021 virtual event, visit https://ipac-canada.org/2021-virtual-race.php.