Jan Schröder teamed up with his HARTMANN colleagues to support a healthcare education project in Kenya. What he took away from this time: learning is very much a two-way street.
An unquenchable thirst for knowledge among healthcare workers is the lasting impression Jan Schröder brought back home to Germany after a week volunteering at health centres in rural Kenya. “I was impressed to see how a healthcare system works that differs greatly to what I know from my European background.”
Exchanging experiences with local experts
Jan, a researcher in HARTMANN’s disinfection division, ran training in hygiene and disinfection practices for volunteers and staff at two healthcare centres in Kisumu County near Lake Victoria. “The healthcare volunteers play an important role in the communities of Kisumu. Each day, they visit households to support families or individuals that are not able to go to the healthcare centres, e.g. due to a severe sickness or as the healthcare centres are too far away from their home. That’s a big responsibility”, Jan says.
As an expert for disinfection topics with a PhD in physical chemistry, Jan gave advice to the volunteers on how to cut the risk of infection both at home and in the clinic and taught them how to hygienically remove and dispose of medical gloves. “Generally, there is a broad awareness for communicable diseases like HIV and hepatitis and the need for disinfection, whether it’s the healthcare volunteers or the medical staff at the healthcare centres,” Jan recaps.
For the medical staff, he provided intensive training on surface, instrument and hand disinfection. Looking back, he believes that the in-depth discussions he led with the healthcare staff about disinfection challenges in Kenya was the most valuable insight he got.
“It was impressive for me to see which routines the Kenyan healthcare experts have developed, for example to prevent an infection of a new born child during childbirth. At some point, they do have the same concerns about hygiene as we have in Europe. On the other side, the knowledge about diseases like HIV seems to be quite abstract for people, which makes it difficult to implement standard measures for infection prevention.”
Also, the water situation in Kenya is a daily challenge people face. “Clean water is a basic requirement. But in Kisumu, water is a scarce resource and they have to store it in big tanks. The problem is that in standing water germs can spread quickly, e.g. of Vibrio cholerae bacteria. While in Europe, cholera has been practically eradicated, in Kenya, it is still everywhere.”
Even though the Kenyan healthcare system faces challenges that European countries might have solved years and decades ago, Jan still found some distinct similarities. “It was impressive and surprising for me at the same time: The health care staff have developed their own treatment routines and practices. I was amazed to see how one small health centre with no regular doctor is somehow able to meet the needs of thousands of local people, including many hundreds who are HIV-positive. It was really an eye-opening experience for me.”
“Overall, it was an unforgettable time that gave me a new perspective on healthcare and the challenges of hygiene practices. The locals were very open and eager to exchange their experiences. I think both sides took away some valuable learnings. Everybody was so welcoming and there was a great team spirit that motivated everyone involved. It was surprising, impressive and challenging at the same time.”
Alongside Jan on the project, which was part of the wide-ranging work in Kenya by humanitarian aid agency CARE International, were three colleagues: Anna Francis-Jones from the UK, Niki Brandt from South Africa and Cristina Sansalvador from Spain. Read Cristina’s story.
In 2018, HARTMANN is celebrating its 200-year anniversary. We are now counting down to our anniversary celebration in June 2018 through a series of articles that show how our employees and partners contribute to advancing healthcare, as well as discussing trends and issues that affect the healthcare systems we serve.