Hospitals in Africa gaining trained sterilization specialists through Safe Surgery Initiative partnership

July 27, 2021

The nonprofit Safe Surgery Initiative partners with hundreds of hospitals in Africa, Asia and Latin America on surgical instrument repair. Safe Surgery was looking for a way to expand into training in sterile services, to make a leap forward in patient safety as well as in the care and handling of the instruments generally.

People trained in properly sterilizing surgical instruments are in short supply at hospitals in low- and middle-income countries worldwide, putting the hospitals patients at increased risk for life-threatening infections. Central sterile services technicians, are on the front lines when it comes to preventing infections and ensuring patient safety. Their role in sterilization of instruments and devices is a vital responsibility in hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

Keith Miles, Safe Surgery executive director, was looking at the website of the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management (IAHCSMM) when he noticed a link to Purdue’s program.

Purdue’s affordable online course looked like an opportunity for Safe Surgery to facilitate training in sterile services at its partner hospitals. The organization was able to partner with Smile Train on funding for the effort.  A first cohort of 46 students from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ghana, The Gambia, Liberia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenyaand Ethiopia are taking the course, or soon will, through Purdue Online. They will complete it over three months and take IAHCSMM’s certification exam the following month. The program could grow from there.

Though sterile processing is a standard program in U.S. hospitals and in hospitals in other countries, Miles said, Safe Surgery’s partner hospitals often either lack a dedicated department for the purpose or lack purpose-trained personnel even when they have a department.

The duty often falls to operating room nurses, who aren’t specifically trained for it and who need be focused as much as possible on patient care, rather than on cleaning surgical instruments. The nurses are a better option than personnel who are sometimes assigned to the task with little or no formal training, however.

“Frequently, sterilization department staff are not properly trained,” Miles said. “They don't have the resources to do it properly.”

Purdue’s online course could help change that, potentially increasing safety for millions of patients while promoting best practices for both sterilizing and maintaining surgical instruments in the hospitals.

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