Between 1982 and 1985, before wedded bliss and children cemented me to life in Saskatoon, I worked as a volunteer nurse in rural Ethiopia. I enjoyed the people, the beautiful country and the many experiences that I had there. I never dreamed I would ever have the opportunity to return.

I work as an Infection Control Professional with Saskatoon Health Region. As many of you know, hand hygiene is an integral component in the work that we do. A friend of mine had recently returned to Ethiopia to teach midwifery. Concerns regarding poor access to hand hygiene products and hand washing sinks came up during one of our online discussions.

Gwen Cerkowniak (kneeling at front) volunteered to take hand hygiene education to the staff and management of the labour and maternity units of St. Luke's Hospital, Wolisso, Ethiopia.

Together we decided to apply for project money from the International Federation of Infection Control, to improve maternal and child health by implementing a hand hygiene program into their facility following World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. WHO has been promoting its Global Safety Challenge, Clean Care is Safe Care, for a number of years now. Countries, including Ethiopia have signed on to implement the protocols that they promote. These guidelines are almost identical to the program we have in Saskatoon Health Region. The big difference is that their hospital has approximately one hand washing sink for 26 patients and no access to alcohol hand rub products. As a result of the project money, the hospital now makes its own hand sanitizer using a recipe from WHO.

In January, I traveled to Ethiopia for 20 days to renew old friendships and make new ones, teach classes on hand hygiene to start off the project and enjoy some quality time with my 18-year old daughter who is volunteering in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. My friend and I spent time teaching staff the importance of hand hygiene using PowerPoint and demonstrations.

Being able to return to Ethiopia after 25 years to see how things have improved and can continue to improve is a great finale to a journey that started so many years ago. It was also an affirming trip that our efforts in Saskatoon Health Region to promote hand hygiene are part of a global movement to ensure safe patient care.

Submitted by Gwen Cerkowniak
Infection Control Professional