Citizen Reporter
Reporter
4 minute read
24 Mar 2020
4:41 pm

Germ-destroying robots come into their own amid Covid-19 outbreak

Citizen Reporter

Netcare is using groundbreaking technologies to strengthen hospital infection prevention and control.

Brighten Mashau, an employee at the hospital, pushes an ultraviolet (UV) pulse lights disinfecting robot at the Netcare Sunninghill Hospital in Johannesburg, on March 12, 2020. Picture: Michele Spatari / AFP

With the increase in the spread of the novel coronavirus in South Africa, there has been a surge of interest among the public regarding the measures healthcare providers are taking to prevent the spread of infections, and more specifically Covid-19, in their facilities and in latest technologies that assist in infection prevention and control within hospitals.

“Netcare has for long placed an emphasis on infection prevention measures within its healthcare facilities as a result of the ongoing prevalence of highly infectious viruses such as the coronaviruses, and the so-called ‘superbugs’. As a result, we started to acquire super effective germ-destroying robots late in 2017, to further bolster our existing comprehensive disinfection measures,” said the Netcare Group’s chief executive officer, Dr Richard Friedland in a statement.

According to Friedland, both the Xenex pulsed ultraviolet (UV) robots and Yanex Pulsed-Xenon UV robots deployed in Netcare hospitals use high doses of UV light to destroy viruses, bacteria and fungal spores and disinfect hospital wards, theatres and other spaces within minutes.

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“Now, with the increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in South Africa – which unfortunately won’t be the first, nor likely the last, infectious illness to reach our shores – we are pleased to have opted to invest in innovations such as these germ-eradicating robots. We have also noted that there has been a growing public interest in the technology,” he added.

Friedland further explained that the robots showed impressive infection prevention and control results internationally and during pilot trials at Netcare hospitals in 2017, a first in the country.

They have since become an important and established line of defence against viruses, bacteria and fungal spores within Netcare’s healthcare facilities. He says that Netcare currently has 28 robots operating at 22 sites, and will take delivery of a further 13 within the next couple of weeks.

Senior clinical advisor at Netcare Dr Caroline Maslo says healthcare facilities globally face a daily challenge to prevent the spread of infections within the context of increasing concerns about antibiotic resistance.

“Having used the robots in different settings in Netcare facilities, we found that the technology lived up to the impressive results achieved in independent international studies which endorse this method of disinfection.

“The Yanex robot, which was designed in Russia, has repeatedly proven itself to be effective and efficient, and this form of disinfection is particularly useful against antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and viruses such as Covid-19 which it easily destroys. This new technology does not replace the infection risk management protocols and procedures we already have in place, but is used alongside them as an additional line of defence in our arsenal against potentially harmful germs,” she added.

She explained that the robots emit UV-C spectrum light, which destroys the DNA of bacteria, viruses and fungi to neutralise them and prevent them from replicating.

According to Pharmateknique, marketers of the Yanex disinfection device in South Africa, the system has the ability to destroy an impressive 99,90% of germs on high-touch surfaces and 99.99% of airborne germs. The technology is entirely non-toxic, although the area being disinfected must be vacated during the robot’s cycle, as our eyes are sensitive to the UV light.

“Rigorous disinfection of an area such as a room can be done in just over a minute, which means minimal disruption to busy hospital areas, and the robots can be used 24 hours a day. A more compact and mobile version that folds up into a briefcase-size is also available and is used by Netcare 911 to quickly disinfect road and air ambulances and emergency vehicles,” said Pharmateknique.

The marketers also touted the technology’s added advantage of requiring no water whilst operating, thus rendering it optimally water-wise when compared with other forms of intensive disinfection, and it furthermore uses minimal electricity.

Another important benefit is that the robot’s UV light does not result in any residue or potentially harmful by-products, which means it is safe for use in even the most sensitive environments, such as neonatal intensive care units where premature and other compromised babies are cared for.

Each robot deployed in Netcare facilities is connected to the Cloud and the robots generate full reports on all of their activities, which are stored on the Cloud. Relevant hospital and Netcare stakeholders are able to monitor the activities of each robot in real-time and access full reports at any time.

The training of the cleaners responsible for operating this technology has been listed as another side-benefit as it has allowed them to acquire a new set of skills.

“This is not a case of robots replacing human labour, but rather of robots empowering their human operators.

“Many of those who are admitted to hospital are particularly vulnerable to infection. The aim of our infection prevention and control programmes and the use of technology such as this is to help protect those in our care, as well as visitors, staff members and medical practitioners from any potentially harmful germs including Covid-19.

“Persons admitted to a Netcare facility can, therefore, be assured that the hospital’s wards, theatres and other facilities is being disinfected as thoroughly as possible,” concluded Maslo.

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