Home > Soapbox Updates > Attending ICAN: Dr Alex Aiken

Soapbox collaborator Dr. Alex Aiken reports on his recent trip to attend ICAN in South Africa and his visit to Tanzania for the CLEAN Study… 

I mainly work as a hospital doctor and I have an involvement with a couple of ongoing research projects at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). I’ve been working on and off, on hospital-related infections in African countries since 2010/11 – I did my PhD fieldwork in Kenya at that time. This will be my first time writing for the Soapbox blog!

At the beginning of July, I made a trip to Cape Town, South Africa and then onwards to Dar-es-Saalam, Tanzania – this was for two quite different, but both useful activities that relate to Soapbox’s work.

In Cape Town, I was attending the Infection Control Africa Network (ICAN) conference. For me, the ICAN meetings are a chance to catch up with many old collaborators and friends as well as an opportunity to strike up new connections. I’d never been to Cape Town before, so it was exciting to get a chance to visit one of Africa’s most iconic cities. I was staying with a charming South African colleague (Angela Dramowski) and her family in suburban Cape Town, so I got to hear about day-to-day life in this interesting city. A big current concern is the city-wide water shortage – now so acute that all domestic consumption is strictly metered. Locals have to find all kinds of innovative ways to cut their water usage – or face a serious bill. This does have the upside that using alcohol-based hand rub for hand cleaning is very popular – something that I’m very keen on!

The ICAN conference ran in a new development area called Century City. This combines hotel, conference centre and shopping mall – it is all very plush. The conference itself was very slick – Professor Shaheen Mehtar was stepping down as the Chair of ICAN, and over the last 15 years, she has built ICAN up into a very successful institution. Infection control is a very “broad church”, so there were a wide range of sessions with some high-profile speakers for the major lectures.

My favourite session was one on “The impact of the environment on Hospital-acquired Infections”. Dr Joost Hopman from the Netherlands ranged impressively from neonatal Klebsiella outbreaks in Haiti to “water-free” care in Dutch Intensive Care Units to his work with Medecins Sans Frontieres in Uganda. Then my old friend Anna Maruta – a theatre nurse turned infection control specialist from Zimbabwe, now working in Sierra Leone – talked practical advice on hospital cleaning methodologies.

Finally Marina Aucamp, a South African infection control nurse who clearly has vast experience, talked about methods of measuring cleaning outcomes in hospitals – a topic that was very relevant to my next destination. As ever in conferences, some of the most useful things come from the chats around the fringes. I got talking to some attendees from Tanzania who happened to be able to show me their recent WASH report about water quality in their local hospitals – this was a key piece of information for our Soapbox work that I had been puzzling over how I might obtain.

After a quick trip to see Table Mountain up close on the last day (cramming into a taxi with four others from the conference), it was back to the airport for my next destination – Dar-es-Saalam in Tanzania. This was for a series of preliminary meetings relating to a new project called the CLEAN study, based in hospitals in “Dar”. The CLEAN study is all about – you guessed it – cleaning in hospitals, or rather, training hospital cleaners on the principles and practical steps for doing these important activities better. This was a first opportunity for me to meet with our main Tanzanian collaborators in person. It was a pleasure to meet Abdunoor Kabanywayi, Fatuma Mwani and Stella Mwita who all work at the Ifakara Health Institute (IHI). After a whirlwind two days of driving back and forth between hospitals, laboratories, a university and Ministry buildings, I was very excited about the prospects for this new study. It is an interesting and innovative piece of work that I’m delighted to be working with Soapbox and IHI on.

Pictured: Alex with Matron Nuswe Ambokile, Maternity Unit at Temeke Hospital in Dar-es-Salaam

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