Robots: The secret behind low infections among health workers

Wednesday September 2 2020

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With the robots, health workers such as Shadrack Nambayisa, a critical nurse at King Faisal Hospital, do not have to handle patients in person for every procedure because the robots can handle some. Photo | Cyril Ndegeya  

ARAFAT MUGABO
By ARAFAT MUGABO
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In a bid to minimise contact between health workers — doctors and nurses — patients, Rwanda on May 20 deployed five robots to carry out simple tasks like taking temperatures and monitoring patients.

Now some doctors say these robots are the reason behind the few-recorded positive cases of frontline doctors and nurses attending to the infected.

“I am sure without robots we would have hundreds of health workers testing positive for coronavirus,” said Dr Menelas Nkeshimana, an officer in charge of Covid-19 Case Management and head of emergency department at the University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK).

“Before deployment of robots, doctors and nurses had to take care of patients who were asymptomatic, those with mild symptoms and ones in the Intensive Care Unit which was difficult to the limited health workers,” said Dr Nkeshimana.

“But now robots in their respective treatment centres can attend to the patients with mild symptoms, asymptomatic, and those that are not in the critical condition at a rate above 70 per cent relieving doctors from exposure to the pandemic,” he said.

Since the first case of Covid-19 was reported in Rwanda in March, more than 15 health workers have contracted the virus treating victims.

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What a doctor can do...

Other health workers that talked to Rwanda Today said it takes a while for patients to realise that the robots can do some of the work the medical staff do.

They say one has to explain to the patient the aim and function of the robot. But the first reaction is not positive, especially for old patients. But if you explain your aim, the patient is happy because he or she gets to know that what comes out of the robot is the doctors' command.

Dr James Karimba (not his real name) and a frontline worker at Gatenga Covid-19 treatment centre said the robots have helped the hospital limit the number of protective masks and gowns staff have to use daily.

For example, before the robots a doctor had to visit patients in their respective wards at least five times a day and each time required changing the protective gears. Now, especially in areas where these robots are stationed, the doctor can attend to patients once or twice a day.

Dr Karimba said the shortage of masks, gowns, and other protective gears has been a problem to the national health system.

Dr Karimba and other five doctors that talked to Rwanda Today added that as people testing positive for coronavirus rises overwhelm the health system, the number of robots should be increased to ensure that each treatment centre and referral hospital gets at least one to help continue protecting caretakers from exposure to the virus.

Rwanda Today has learnt that the robots are programmed to carry out additional tasks like distributing water, food and educating the patients in their confinements about the prevention measure and other vital information from the caretakers.

The robots monitor parameters from equipment in the room and allow patients to use the touch-screen faces on it to record messages and send them to doctors.

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