Application of tools to monitor environmental conditions, identify exposures, and inform decision-making to improve infection prevention and control practices in Malawian maternity wards


Healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs) contribute to maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality, especially in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Deficient environmental health (EH) conditions and infection prevention and control (IPC) practices in healthcare facilities (HCFs) contribute to the spread of HAIs, but microbial sampling of sources of contamination is rarely conducted nor reported in low-resource settings. The purpose of this study was to assess EH conditions and IPC practices in Malawian HCFs and evaluate how EH deficiencies contribute to pathogen exposures and HAIs, and to provide recommendations to inform improvements in EH conditions using a mixed-methods approach. Thirty-one maternity wards in government-run HCFs were surveyed in the three regions of Malawi. Questionnaires were administered in parallel with structured observations of EH conditions and IPC practices and microbial testing of water sources and facility surfaces. Results indicated significant associations between IPC practices and microbial contamination. Facilities where separate wards were not available for mothers and newborns with infections and where linens were not used for patients during healthcare services were more likely to have delivery tables with surface contamination (relative risk = 2.23; 1.49, 3.34). E. coli was detected in water samples from seven (23%) HCFs. Our results suggest that Malawian maternity wards could reduce microbial contamination, and potentially reduce the occurrence of HAIs, by improving EH conditions and IPC practices. HCF staff can use the simple, low-cost EH monitoring methods used in this study to incorporate microbial monitoring of EH conditions and IPC practices in HCFs in low-resource settings.

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The Water Institute and the Institute of Global Health and Infectious Diseases at UNC-Chapel Hill thank members of UNC Project-Malawi and the Malawi Ministry of Health and Population for their in-country organization and guidance. This project was made possible with funding from P&G Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program and the Office for Undergraduate Research at UNC-Chapel Hill.

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Correspondence to Hemali Harish Oza or Michael Benjamin Fisher or Jamie Bartram.

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Oza, H.H., Fisher, M.B., Abebe, L. et al. Application of tools to monitor environmental conditions, identify exposures, and inform decision-making to improve infection prevention and control practices in Malawian maternity wards. Environ Monit Assess 192, 134 (2020).

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  • Clinic
  • Hospital
  • Cleaning
  • ATP fluorescence
  • Sanitation
  • Hygiene