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Skilled At Heart

Editor's Note: In Ethiopia, Operation Smile is helping to strengthen the country's health system through specialized training and education programs while continuing to provide patients with world-class levels of surgical care. This story is the fourth of a four-part series.

Operation Smile’s Global Standards of Care requires that all nursing volunteers are certified in Basic Life Support (BLS), a course which teaches the fundamentals of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

That standard exists for good reason — cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, killing more than 17 million people every year. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), for every minute CPR is delayed to a victim of cardiac arrest, his or her chances of survival decreases by 10 percent.

In many low- and middle-income countries, including Ethiopia, knowledge of these life-saving skills is not widespread — even among medical professionals. In response to this dire educational need, Operation Smile is committed to offering AHA training programs in the countries where it works. These life-saving certifications not only improve patient safety at our medical mission sites, but also strengthen health systems in the trainees’ communities for the long term.

The impact of these programs is immense. Of students surveyed who completed Operation Smile AHA courses, 84.4 percent of respondents said that principles taught in their courses changed policies or procedures in their home countries or hospitals. An even greater majority of respondents, 96.5 percent, said that the courses changed how they reacted to an emergency situation.

More than 84 percent said they have already used skills learned in the courses to save a life.

We recently caught up with longtime Operation Smile nursing volunteer Florence Mangula of Kenya about her experiences both as a student and instructor of BLS and Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) courses. Affectionately called “Mama Africa” by the Operation Smile medical volunteer community, the intensive care unit nurse has become a fixture in spreading this life-saving knowledge throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.

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