In 2011, Christina Fast, an internationally certified Sterile Processing Educator, volunteered on the Africa Mercy—the world’s largest floating hospital. While docked in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Christina visited the sterile processing department of a local healthcare facility. What she found left her feeling overwhelmed—the health care workers responsible for reprocessing surgical instruments had never received training to do the job safely or effectively, which meant there was a high risk of surgical infection. Upon her return to Canada, Christina shared her vision of starting an organization to help decrease the risk of surgical infections in resource-constrained countries.
Christina re-joined the Africa Mercy in Conakry, Guinea in 2012. She had a vision of helping to improve practices, but had yet to figure out a sustainable way of doing so. Knowing that you can't disinfect or sterilize without first cleaning, working with staff in the local hospitals to clean their work areas (which hadn't been cleaned in over 20 years) was a good place to start. Christina, along with a number of volunteers, helped to clean the sterilization departments. Local staff were amazed at the difference environmental cleaning made to their department, and were excited to learn what else they could do to improve their practice. Christina left them with 3 simple instructions and upon her return, 4 months later, was delighted to discover that the sterilization department looked as it had when she’d left. The positive outcome inspired her to create context specific educational materials which is the foundation of SPECT's work.
In July 2013, Sterile Processing Education Charitable Trust (SPECT) was registered as a legal entity in Canada, and 3 months later granted charitable status.
During 2013/14, SPECT, in collaboration with Mercy Ships, piloted our first sterile processing training program in Republic of the Congo. The training was provided for 37 health care workers from five hospitals in the port city of Pointe Noire. Along with training, SPECT facilitators and volunteers worked with participants in their local settings to help bridge the gap between knowledge and practice. The feedback from participants and observation of changes 3 months later motivated us to keep going.
In the Spring of 2014, SPECT, along with Mercy Ships Canada, SEChange International and AMREFF received a Grand Challenges Grant of $112,000. Thanks to this funding, SPECT was able to provide training to 147 health care workers in Madagascar on sterile processing practices and to provide an innovative sterilization solution (including a pressure cooker, a specifically designed surgical instrument basket and a non-electric heating source) to 29 clinics that were without electricity and previously had no effective way of sterilizing instruments.
In 2016 SPECT received funding from Mercy Ships Canada to distribute their sterilization system and provide education and training in Benin, West Africa. At the same time SPECT proposed doing a research study to identify the impact of their training program. In 2017 two articles were published, one in the British Medical Journal and the other in Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control. These and subsequent publications identifying the impact of SPECT's training program, has resulted in international recognition for our work supporting safer surgery in resource-constrained countries.
As of 2019 SPECT has worked with 4 partnering organizations in 14 countries across 3 continents, training over 1400 health care workers from 200+ facilities. SPECT is still the only known organization in the world focused specifically on improving sterile processing practices in resource constrained countries. SPECT has been able to link education and training with research, which has the global surgical community paying attention. Because of SPECT's advocacy role and impact of training we have been invited to participate in conversations addressing the challenges of global safe surgery, placing sterile processing at this table for the first time.