A Life As A Human interview with Christina Fast – Sterile Processing Education in Developing Countries (SPEDC)
Christina Fast is a brave, energetic young woman who is dedicated to bettering the lives of others and is passionate about health care and caring for those in need. Her love of traveling and her love for her job took her to West Africa where she volunteered with charity Mercy Ships, joining 450 international crew members onboard the World’s largest hospital ship.
As a sterile processing technician, Christina was instrumental in helping local surgeons, anesthesiologists and OR nurses understand the severity of sterilizing conditions in Guinea and Sierra Leone. Her volunteer experience inspired Christina to use her professional skills to start her own non-profit organization, Sterile Processing Education in Developing Countries (SPEDC).
Follow: Facebook | LinkedIn
LAAH: What exactly is it that you do?
CF: I educate health care workers in developing countries such as Sierra Leone, Guinea, and the Congo in sterile processing practices to decrease post-operative infections.
LAAH: When did you start?
CF: I volunteered with Mercy Ships and onboard the Africa Mercy in fall of 2011. I provided education to sterile processors on and off the ship, working to improve their knowledge base and improve infection control processes on the ship. I had the opportunity to visit various hospitals as well and was appalled at the lack of resources, knowledge, and training of individuals working in the area of sterile processing. A real shock for me was when I realized that not only were instruments not being sterilized prior to reuse, but that laundry soap was the only disinfectant being used to clean instruments. When questioned further the people working in the department noted that they were hired to clean the instruments, with no guarantee of pay, and no education related to sterile processing procedures. This ignited my passion to provide education to individuals working in these areas.
LAAH: Why do you do it and what is the motivation or passion that keeps you going?
CF: I teach sterile processing in Canada to international health care workers. I also worked as a sterile processor in hospitals in developed countries, such as Canada and Australia. There are international standards for sterilizing instruments that are in place to prevent serious post operative infections that lead to loss of life – no matter how good the surgical team was at doing their job. Seeing the huge need for this education in African countries, and meeting the people working in these hospitals who want to make a difference but don’t know how, inspires me to develop resources and supports that would empower them to make a difference.
LAAH: Do you feel that what you have done so far has made a difference? If so, can you explain how?
CF: I’m just beginning this work – it’ll take a lifetime! It’s something that, due to its cross-cultural nature, can be complex and frustrating. However, last fall I initiated a project of trialling a collaborative effort with volunteers from the Africa Mercy and Hospital Sterile Processors to clean up their sterilizing area and provide education. We spent a day in the area cleaning – something that hadn’t occurred in the 20 years these people had worked in that room. I left them with three expectations – that at the end of the day they would take out the garbage, wipe down all surfaces, and that they would not put the instruments on the floor. Five months later I returned and found that the room had been maintained as if we had just cleaned it.
Another example that encourages me to keep going is that while in Guinea, the Africa Mercy was supporting local physicians to set up clinics to repair club feet. The procedure to do this required the use of forceps and scalpels that would be reused. This necessitated sterilization of the instruments – however they did not have access to autoclaves. In collaboration with an anesthetist onboard the ship, we tested using a pressure cooker with colanders inside to sterilize instruments. We found that with the proper external heating device the pressure cooker was able to not only sterilize the instruments, but could keep them sterile until it was time to use them. These clinics are now using this process to ensure the instruments are kept sterile. Most of the hospitals I visited in Guinea and Sierra Leone had autoclaves that were being used to store supplies, as they had parts malfunctioning and no-one knew how to fix them. Being able to use pressure cookers – which could be obtained for $20-30 Canadian and colanders from the kitchen – is a much cheaper alternative and more durable.
LAAH: Who are your allies and supporters in this enterprise?
CF: Mercy Ships has been collaborating with me in Africa to move this work forward. However, with the support of a community organization on Pender Island, called the Green Angels, I am in the process of establishing Sterile Processing Education in Developing Countries, a Trust that will allow me to work with numerous organizations in various parts of the world. Also, friends and family have been instrumental in supporting me to continue working with Mercy Ships until the organization is established and I can apply for Grant Funding.
LAAH: Do you have plans to grow your involvement, to expand the scope of your project? If so, can you elaborate on these plans?
CF: Currently I have stretches of time off between my teaching job in Canada; time I use to work overseas. My hope is that once the Trust is established I will be able to work full-time educating internationally. With enough people interested and the support of larger organizations, I envision recruiting others to come along side of me to also provide education. I also hope to establish a website where individuals can purchase various essential supplies, such as pressure cooker and colander sets or brushes or heating sources to be donated to a clinic/hospital in an area where I have provided education. I am also hoping to develop training materials geared specifically towards what is available and possible in developing countries, in both French and English.
LAAH: Like anything in life worth working for there must be difficulties and struggles too. Can you share with us what have been your greatest challenges?
CF: My greatest challenge is raising enough support to cover all my expenses, both in Canada and in Africa. The cost of going to Africa twice a year, maintaining a home in Canada, and supplying the resources needed to do this work is much greater than I initially anticipated. While I gladly give my time to do this work I will be unable to do so for much longer without stable financial backing. Establishing the Trust will hopefully allow this to happen.
LAAH: How can people help you?
CF: I am meeting the Africa Mercy in the Congo in October, where their capacity building team has already arranged for me to work with several hospitals. Supporting me financially is possible once I obtain my donation number (currently waiting for it). They can also follow my blog and spread the word of the work I am doing. Once the Trust is established we are planning to establish a process whereby individuals can volunteer their time to raise support, provide education, or provide other needed services (such as advertising).
The Life As A Human team thanks Christina Fast for the amazing work she is doing and for giving us this interview. If you know Christina, or if her work has touched your life or inspired you in some way, please leave her a comment.
We know she would love to hear from you!
All Photos Are © Sterile Processing Education in Developing Countries (SPEDC)