One of the things that I love about Mercy Ships is that they not only try to meet the immediate needs of our patients by offering lifesaving surgeries free of charge, but they are very committed to changing the health care capabilities of the nations where we serve. It is known as our Capacity Building Program and it takes on many, many shapes. It includes training and mentoring of health care workers and technicians as well as providing the tools that are needed to help them serve their people better in the future.
All too often, one of the sad realities of these types of programs is that the tools and equipment are provided, but the training to operate and maintain the equipment is not. There are far too many stories of state of the art medical equipment sitting unused and abandoned because there are no spare parts or personnel have not been trained on how to keep it running. Another challenge is that oftentimes the rural settings of the clinics and hospitals in the third world lack the reliable electric power required to keep the equipment operating.
I say all that as background to why the Sterilization Project is one of my favorite capacity building projects that Mercy Ships participates in providing. Conceptually, it’s really very simple. The goal is to train health care workers about the importance of proper sterilization procedures and provide them the means to sterilize their surgical tools and instruments in their rural and/or third world settings. At the end of the training, they are given either a gas or electric pressure cooker, extra gaskets and a stainless steel basket to hold the instruments while they are being sterilized. The training and pressure cookers are provided by a foundation in Canada that primarily consists of a husband and wife and their daughter — all truly amazing people.
Successful class participants and instructors after completing the training
New Pressure Cooker and Basket with Surgical Tools
My small part in all of this came about last Wednesday. Fifty seven pressure cookers were supposed to have arrived in Benin a month earlier but were delayed. Then they were supposed to be here the week before last week’s training was offered to health care workers from thirty rural clinics and hospitals. That never happened either. The training was at a remote location, over two hours’ drive from the ship. The training was last Monday through Wednesday with the intent that each participant would be presented a new sterilizing pressure cooker after successfully completing their training. By Wednesday morning, we still weren’t sure if the pressure cookers had arrived and were delayed in Customs or if they were still coming but not in country yet. I had promised Dan, who was providing the training and the pressure cookers, that if they became available, we would get them to his training site.
At 0900, I was told that the pressure cookers had not even arrived in the country yet. At 0930, I received an e-mail notifying me that the pressure cookers were in Customs but would not be released until at least Thursday or Friday. At 1030, I got a call that they had cleared Customs and we could go get them. By 1100, we were at the Customs office with two vehicles but were told that we could not take the thirty we needed but that we had to take all 58 boxes or none at all. Fortunately, after being in Africa all this time, I had learned how many boxes fit on a truck — “Always one more”.
“Always room for One More” — although I am not sure we would have been able to pull it off if we had 59 boxes instead of the 58 that arrived.
In record time, we loaded the 58 boxes, hauled them back to the ship, unloaded and reloaded them and they were on their way to the training site. Over two hours later, they all safely arrived less than 30 minutes before the end of the training and all of the participants received their promised pressure cooker. Years from now, effective sterilization of surgical instruments in remote hospitals and clinics in Benin will be continuing thanks to this simple but effective project. It was great to be able to play just a small part in making it happen.
Twenty minutes before the end of class on the final day, the Pressure cookers arrived at the Training site and distribution began
A very happy recipient and loading up a Pressure Cooker for the trip home