An Innovative Solution to Sterile Instrument Processing

February 3, 2020

Nisha John, Ameila Woodard, Nicole Bowal, and Gideon Mentie worked with SPECT while they were students at the University of Calgary. In this blog post, Gideon shares about their project.

I had no idea that when I connected with SPECT in January of 2018, I would be partnering with them to develop their surgical instrument drying basket for pressure cooker style autoclaves. But that meeting turned into my capstone engineering project and one of the greatest projects of my life.

We started our capstone project in September 2018, focusing first on the design of the instrument basket. SPECT had already built two prototypes of this basket to address a critical challenge they had observed in the field: many hospitals in low-and middle-income countries were using pressure cooker autoclaves to sterilize their surgical tools, but these autoclaves don’t have reliable drying cycles. If instruments don’t completely dry during sterilization, pathogenic microbes can survive and be transferred during surgery.

After building a prototype, we quickly realized that the real challenge would be manufacturing this basket near hospitals in Uganda. So, with the support of the University of Calgary and HOPEthiopia, another Calgary-based non-profit, we booked our tickets to Uganda.

To find manufacturing partners, we joined “expat” Facebook groups, found people on LinkedIn, and used any connection we could muster up to find someone in Kampala with the tools and experience our prototyping would require. Amelia even found a contact through a cousin who used to live in Uganda! Armed with all our contacts and a loose schedule, we jumped onto our Ethiopian Airlines flight and landed in Entebbe, Uganda, the next day.

The FullSoul team picked us up from the airport and we became fast friends. Asha Malinga, our trip coordinator, immediately became everyone’s hero and was critical in helping us find a manufacturing partner. She helped us navigate Kampala during our trip as we tried to connect with all the people we had reached out to. Asha also encouraged us to stop at any metalworking shop we passed by. Even if they couldn’t help us with our prototype, we would often get a tour of their shop or construction site.

Thankfully, our searching paid off. One of the connections we had made before arriving in Uganda turned out to be the perfect partner for us. Bodawerk, a company manufacturing electric motorcycle taxis (called“boda-bodas”) was able to make us two prototype baskets during our stay in Uganda. This gave us the ability to get feedback on our first design from midwives working in peri-urban communities like Mukono and then come back to Kampalato get a second prototype that reflected their requested changes.  

It was a huge privilege to support SPECT’s work with our skills as engineering (and biology) students, helping them to make sterile processing available to the 5 billion people worldwide who still lack access to safe surgery. It’s been amazing to partner with Christina Fast and her team as they continue to push the boundaries of sterile processing education, reaching hospitals and health networks in dire need of teachers. And now they have a manufacturing plan waiting for their next iteration of the instrument processing basket.

Find out how you can get involved!