Government offers funds to help hospitals upgrade
The government has released funding to strengthen preparations by local hospitals to convert existing facilities or build international-standard isolation wards.
The number of hospital beds in isolation wards for airborne infectious diseases in Hong Kong has increased to 1,500 since the Sars outbreak in 2003, said Benny Chow, a senior associate of international architecture firm RMJM.
The firm said it had unveiled a new approach to hospital design which would strengthen Asia's capacity to manage infectious diseases. 'Our research shows that we can control airflow in a way that makes the hospital environment safer for staff and patients. Through a process which we call forensic architecture, which constantly analyses data during a building's design and construction, we are exploring ways of minimising the risk of the spread of infections such as Sars or H1N1,' said Mr Chow, who is a buildings aerodynamics expert on infectious diseases and has led research in this area at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
After the Sars outbreak, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States set out guidelines and standards for isolation wards with powerful ventilation systems purpose-built to treat patients suffering from airborne highly infectious diseases and that also protected the health care workers, Mr Chow said.
According to WHO and CDC guidelines, an isolation ward built for patients with airborne infectious diseases should feature a powerful negative air pressure system, which builds a vacuum, to ensure clean air from outside the building is sucked in. Infectious disease viruses are filtered out before the air goes outside the ward.
'A new isolation ward in Hong Kong built in 100 per cent compliance with the international standard is Block S building of the Princess Margaret Hospital in Kwai Chung,' he said. 'Theoretically, it is better to build isolation wards from scratch than convert existing wards into ones to meet international standards. There are designs specifically for old hospitals to help them maximise the benefits of the negative pressure isolation ward system. To achieve the right effect of negative pressure, the air-pump installation takes up an entire floor.'
According to WHO guidelines 2metres should be a safe distance from a coughing virus carrier. As for diseases spread through direct contact with droplets from the carrier, the droplets normally fall on the floor within half a metre of the source.
Several health care workers in isolation wards in Hong Kong and other cities were overcome by Sars at the onset of the outbreak in 2003. Mr Chow said hospitals had initially neglected the importance of face shields which should be an integral part of the protection gear of staff working in isolation wards.
'When people rub their eyes with hands which may have come into contact with airborne viruses, they will get infected easily. Germs and viruses can get into the body through the eyes,' he said.
RMJM specialises in the design and construction of hospitals and its portfolio in Asia includes Genzyme's new life science research facility in Beijing, the Centralised Laboratory at Chinese University and several hospitals in Singapore. RMJM launched its global health and science studio in Hong Kong and announced a new approach to hospital design which will help prevent the spread of airborne infectious diseases.
RMJM has been involved in the design of the Negative Pressure Isolation Wards in the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Singapore. These wards feature airflow direction control and minus-five bar of air pressure. The air inlet of the ward brings in 100 per cent fresh air while the air outlet installed with a high-efficiency particulate air filtration system filters out most viruses.