July 26, 2021

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

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — 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, also known as medical sterilizers, 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 health care facilities.

The nonprofit Safe Surgery Initiative partners with hundreds of hospitals in Africa, Asia and Latin America on surgical instrument repair. But 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.

Enter Purdue University and its online Central Service Technical Training course. 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. IAHCSMM is the top organization for sterile processing professionals.

Purdue’s affordable online course looked like a prime 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. Now, a first cohort of 46 students from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ghana, The Gambia, Liberia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, and 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.

“We’re hoping to expand it in 2022,” Miles said. “We’re trying to do at least 600 students a year.”

Though sterile processing is a standard program in U.S. hospitals and in hospitals in other wealthy 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.

“From a hospital perspective, their instruments are normally cleaned with bleach and other harsh chemicals.,” Miles said. “Those tend to ruin the instruments, make them degrade even faster, which ends up creating more infection across the hospital and across the patients. It's just this never-ending cycle of unsafe practices that have been going on for decades.”

In addition to its Central Service Technical Training course, Purdue’s program offers online health care leadership and health care materiel management training, including a central service leadership course, along with online certification exam review courses. A Purdue Online partnership with the College of Biomedical Equipment Technology also makes an externship program featuring 400 hours of experiential learning available.

“This affordable central sterile services program through Purdue Online is able to address a global need while also serving the U.S. and Indiana,” said Gary Bertoline, senior vice president for Purdue Online and learning innovation. “Trained professionals in the field are in constant demand around the country in hospitals and clinics, surgery, ambulatory and outpatient centers, and dentist offices, among other places.” 

Media contact: Greg Kline, 765-426-8545, gkline@purdue.edu

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