Genevieve Dione works as an endoscopy technician in Dakar, Senegal. In her role, she’s long been incorporating elements of sterile processing, which involves cleaning, preparing, and storing medical devices. However, she lacked opportunities to deepen her knowledge in this vital area of safe surgical care.

This all changed in June when Genevieve stepped on board the Global Mercy® as one of 21 Sterile Processing Training course participants during the ship’s first visit to Senegal. The course was an opportunity to delve into the topic alongside fellow professionals, practice new skills, and share her own experiences. Now she says:

“I really understand the importance behind sterilizing all this equipment.”

Sterile processing is such an essential part of keeping patients safe during surgical procedures that it’s easy to take it for granted.

“We cannot talk about surgical safety of patients without sterile processing,” said Arthus Kossou, a Mercy Ships volunteer from Benin who facilitated the Sterile Processing Training course. “The sterile processing department has always been underrated. It’s so sad because we play a significant role in infection prevention.”

Training the Next Generation

Having graduated with a degree in applied linguistics, Arthus originally joined the Africa Mercy® as a local worker when the vessel docked in his home country of Benin in 2016. Arthus later participated in the Sterile Processing Training course as a student. Using this new skillset, he moved into the position of Operating Room Sterile Processing Team Leader on board, where he still works today.

Arthus wasn’t the only familiar face during this year’s Sterile Processing Course. All the instructors were participants from the previous iteration of the course in 2020 and chose to return and lead the next round of students. This method encapsulates the heart of Medical Capacity Building: finding the next generation of leaders. Individuals are the ones who bring education and skills into local communities, strengthening healthcare systems one hospital at a time.

Throughout the course, Genevieve shone as a thought leader, asking questions that showcased both her knowledge — and her dedication to learning more. As a result, she was trained not only with new skills, but taught how to train others as well, leading to a limitless ripple effect.

Understanding the Invisible Enemy

One challenge of sterile processing is its complexity. Far more than simply washing and sorting surgical instruments, it involves a depth of knowledge that starts in the classroom.

“It takes a really good understanding of microbiology because we fight an invisible enemy, so you have to know how microorganism bacteria function,” said Arthus. “It’s not about just a normal cleaning. You have to see beyond the cleanliness of the surgical instruments.”

The course was designed for low-income countries in 2013 in partnership with the Sterile Processing Education Charitable Trust (SPECT), founded by former Mercy Ships volunteer sterile processing technician Christina Fast. Christina and her fellow instructors have since trained over 1,400 healthcare workers. The course’s four days of classes cover topics like Microbiology, Infection Prevention and Control, Cleaning and Decontamination, and Sterile Storage.

Together with Africa

“What I gained from Mercy Ships and SPECT is what I’m transferring to these participants currently,” Senegalese instructor Dr. Babacar Diop shared.

Taking the course as a participant in 2020 allowed him to revisit materials that he’d studied 15 years earlier at the start of his career. It also began a relationship with the two charities that endured the pandemic, which he’s using to improve processes in his own workplace:

“SPECT and Mercy Ships have been helping us with the administration of my hospital to bring a significant change in the sterilization department.”

Dr. Diop is now working to create an association that will focus on training other professionals in the field.

Sustainable development begins with training locals like Arthus, Genevieve, and Dr. Diop, who can not only practice in their communities but share their education with others. Through partnerships like these, world-class medical practices can become the norm — making safer surgery a tangible future.

Visit mercyships.org to learn more about Medical Capacity Building initiatives and how your support makes a difference.