Medics groomed to minimise errors in surgery

Sunday September 9 2018


By Syriacus Buguzi @buguzi

Musoma. Ever heard of cases where surgeons forgot things, such as gauze inside a patient’s body after a surgical operation; stitched up the skin and left?

This shouldn’t have been happening in hospitals if surgical teams cultivated the habit of abiding by a Surgical Safety Checklist, says Dr Augustino Hellar, the director of Safe Surgery 2020(SS2020) project in the Lake Zone.

Dr Hellar and a team of trainers are now grooming medical staff at local health facilities in regions across the Lake Zone to help them adhere to safe surgery principles, including how to minimize errors and ensure patients’ safety.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) developed the Surgical Safety Checklist over five years ago with the aim of decreasing cases of adverse events, increasing team work and communication during and after surgery.

“You see, it may appear like a simple practice to just count all the surgical instruments before starting an operation and counting them again after the operation. But people usually forget. If ignored, this can lead to very bad outcomes,’’ explains Dr Hellar.

At least 240 medical staff in Mara Region are set to undergo training under the Safe Surgery 2020 project, in line with the National Surgical, Obstetric and Anaesthesia Plan (NSOAP) which was launched by the government and other stakeholders early this year.

The NSOAP aims to ensure that most Tanzanians in all regions across the country can access safe surgical care by 2025.

In Sub-Saharan African countries, the demand for safer and affordable surgical interventions still remains high, says this year’s Lancet study, titled ‘Perioperative patient outcomes in the African Surgical Outcomes Study’, a seven-day prospective observational cohort study.

The ongoing training in the Lake Zone, funded by GE Foundation—a philanthropic organisation -- demonstrates how the plan to scale up safe surgery training to all regions can be implemented, says Dr Hellar.

“We have been exposing all clinical staff to best practices, such as building team work, leadership skills and cultivating confidence, to help them reduce errors and save lives during and after surgery,’’ he says.

Mr Lameck Magori, the district reproductive and child health coordinator in Tarime, told The Citizen that previously, it was not a routine for medical staff to handle surgical patients by following guidelines.

“This training is like a wake-up call to us. In most cases, the practice was done in a business-as-usual way. We’ve started following a checklist and we will now start tracking our progress,’’ said Mr Magori who benefitted from the training.

Nurse Kefline Mfungo who works in a maternity ward at Shirati District Hospital in Rorya District said that the best practices which had been exposed to would help her change her approach for better service provision.

“You see, it reached a point where a surgical operation is conducted, but nothing is documented about who carried out the procedure. This training has helped me to start working smarter in documentation,’’ she said.

The WHO warned in previous reports that unsafe surgical care could cause substantial harm. “Mortality from general anaesthesia alone is reported to be as high as one in 150 in some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa,” says WHO in its report: Safe Surgery, published in

According to Mr Kamome Charles, an anaesthetist from Manyamanyama Health Centre in Bunda District, the Safe Surgery 2020 training has helped him to deliver patient-centered care.

“We have now learned when to give and when not to give certain medications to the patients as we prepare for surgery or even after surgery. Before this training, we were just doing things from experience,’’ he said.