Hong Kong Polytechnic University has launched a world-first centre for infectious diseases that draws together many disciplines. Opening the new centre yesterday at its Hunghom campus, the university unveiled innovations that health workers can use to prevent infectious diseases from spreading in hospitals. It has also developed systems and equipment that will enable sex workers and other members of the public to take anonymous tests for sexually transmitted diseases. Didier Pittet, director of the WHO's infection control programme at Geneva University Hospitals said: 'I don't think there is such a centre anywhere else in the world. It is pretty unique.' Nursing, optometry and radiography faculties, other departments such as building and real estate, textiles, electronics and information engineering and computers are all involved in the centre. During the Sars outbreak in Hong Kong, hand-washing was promoted as one of the most effective means of preventing spread of the disease. A device created by the university should ensure medical staff heed their own advice. With radio-frequency sensors in floors and built-in software at sinks and alcohol cleansing stations, staff wearing monitoring devices in their shoes can be alerted if they fail to thoroughly wash their hands. The same system can be embedded in floors around individual patient's beds to remind staff to wash their hands after they deal with each patient. The system can also be used to alert staff if a patient falls out of bed, said Thomas Wong Kwok-shing, the dean of the university's faculty of health and social sciences. Another device uses individual air-conditioning units to create an air curtain around beds to be used for patients with respiratory illnesses that may be infectious. The university also developed a machine to detect sexually-transmitted diseases for anonymous users. The 1.2-metre-high touch-screen machine was developed for Action for Reach Out, an organisation that counsels sex workers. It dispenses swab kits that can be used without medical supervision and which can then be slotted back into the machine, with a unique identification number, for testing. The user can then call a telephone number for the results. Maureen Boost, principal lecturer at the university's School of Nursing, said: 'This is a prototype, we hope there will be other ones.' There has been interest in developing the units for gay saunas and women's health centres.