Sanitation: the universal disease fighter
In the western part of Honduras is a government hospital that serves a mountainous region. People walk for days to receive medical services. Pregnant women from outlying areas spend weeks on the hospital grounds waiting to deliver. Once labor starts they live too far away to arrive at the hospital in time for the birth.
Volunteers arrive in Santa Rosa de Copan at least twice a year to expand the services offered to this developing region and to teach Honduran counterparts new techniques and share equipment. The Central American Medical Outreach, known as CAMO, organizes their efforts. CAMO also warehouses a myriad of medical supplies for the community.
This week I am regrouping from my time in Santa Rosa de Copan. Last week I ate breakfast at 6:15 a.m. in order to be at the hospital kitchen by 7 a.m. The Nutrition Team often worked through lunch and arrived back at the hotel between 5 and 6 p.m.
The food delivery system for the entire hospital was revised and the CAMO team taught the kitchen staff time management and work efficiency. The new turquoise trays make the food look more appetizing and the portion control helps with costs and improves the nutrition of the patients.
The week was a labor of love for the volunteers and a love of labor for the Honduran staff. They tried so hard to accept and resist change at the same time; in the end, order and sanitation won out.
Part of the hospital kitchen renovation included the installation of a dishwasher, compliments of the generous people who contribute to CAMO. A booster heater was donated and now the trays are heated to 180 degrees Farenheit for 15 seconds to control food borne illnesses.
During a meeting with the hospital director and the kitchen committee, the CAMO Nutrition Team heard a universal theme. Hand washing and sanitation is the first line of defense to fight disease.
The food is now being served on sanitized trays. The director cautioned his staff to keep their hands and the hands of the patients clean. There are no utensils used at the hospital. Diners scoop their food with their fingers onto a tortilla. This is how the majority eat at home. I compare it to eating with chopsticks; a cultural skill that confuses most of us not accustomed to the process.
Hand washing prior to working with or eating food is a basic food safety principal. I wonder how many folks wash their hands before grabbing the French fries at a fast food restaurant. Some people mindlessly munch on snacks in front of the television without clean hands. A computer keyboard has been proven to be as germy as a toilet seat or a telephone yet many folks chow down between key strokes.
The Nutrition Team traveled 12 hours one way by car, plane and bus to a developing country to achieve sanitation during dining. Perhaps the message should be stressed here at home. Wash your hands; the health you save may be your own.
Bobbie Randall is a certified diabetes educator, registered, licensed dietitian. She supervises a diabetes self-management training program at Aultman-Orrville Hospital, Orrville. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330–684-4776.