A spontaneous change of approach helped Niki Brandt deliver potentially lifesaving messages about hand hygiene to healthcare workers in rural Kenya.
Niki, Sales and Marketing Manager for HARTMANN South Africa, had arrived at a small clinic in Kisumu County near Lake Victoria and was ready to deliver hand hygiene training to health workers there. She had with her a set of carefully prepared PowerPoint slides including plenty of scientific detail. However, things didn’t go entirely to plan.
“The first surprise I got was that there was no electricity that day so I wouldn’t be able to show my slides,” says Niki. “I also realised very quickly that many of the staff and community volunteers I would be training had only a limited scientific education and grasp of English.”
Radical change of plan
Niki needed a radical new plan. “When I’d visited Kenya 10 years before, I’d been struck by just how much singing and dancing there is,” she explains. “So, I decided to try to engage the group in creating a song-and-dance routine to help them learn the 12 steps of the World Health Organization’s hand-washing guidelines.
“I wasn’t at all sure it would work, but the group loved it. It was energetic and a lot of fun. By the time we finished the session, people told me they were sure they’d remember. They really understood how important it is to follow good hand hygiene.”
And Niki was able to leave trainees with printed copies of the guidelines so they could pass on their knowledge – and the dance – to others.
According to the World Health Organization, thousands of people are dying every single day from infections acquired while receiving healthcare. There are around 135,000 healthcare-acquired infections every year in Europe and around 100,000 in the US. Rates of infection are even higher in developing countries. Hands are the main pathway of germ transmission in healthcare settings and poor hand hygiene puts patients at risk.
A mission where it is needed
Niki was in Kenya in March this year on a week-long mission with a humanitarian aid agency. Volunteering alongside Niki were three colleagues: Fiona Monaghan, Christine Bloch and Kai Weller.
The four spent time finding out about the organisation’s work in Kisumu, visiting clinics and local schools and then training and working with healthcare workers. Fiona and Christine ran highly interactive sessions for healthcare workers on nutrition and wound management, respectively. Meanwhile, Kai led sex education discussions with groups of young men from surrounding areas.
Their visit to Kenya followed a 2016 mission by another group of HARTMANN volunteers to support a project in Bolivia and promote disinfection practices.
Wonderful and humbling
Recalling her time in Kenya, Niki says: “It was a wonderful time for me. Growing up, I wanted to be a teacher and, during my career, I’ve really enjoyed training nurses and coaching and mentoring colleagues. I loved reconnecting with the teacher in me!
“It was also a humbling experience. The people we met were just so welcoming and friendly. They are very resourceful in finding ways to care for patients – even with limited access to running water and electricity.
“They were also incredibly eager to learn – to keep asking why – and were very grateful for our input.”