U.S. Air Force Clinic Risks Potential Exposure

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s 2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award
By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

If one thing has been certain in the world of medicine since the discovery of HIV/AIDS, it’s that medical safety standards must always be followed. For 135 people receiving treatment at Al Udeid Air Base clinic in Qatar, a failure to properly “[clean] in a manner [consistent] with sterilization guidelines” opened them to the risk of exposure to HIV, Hepatitis B (HBV), and Hepatitis C (HCV).

Map of Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar

The issue is related to endoscopes – an illuminated optical (camera) used for upper and lower gastrointestinal procedures. As endoscopies are invasive procedures, failing to properly sterilize these medical devices poses a serious risk to anyone who undergoes procedures using them. The process for cleaning endoscopes has been readily available to all medical staff well before April 2008, the date when the devices were identified as having been improperly cleaned. These failures to follow basic sterilization protocols, particularly in a military base medical center, are unacceptable. That no one apparently noticed the improper sterilization methods until April 2016 is simply intolerable.

The issue came to light Monday, June 19, 2017, when the Air Force Surgeon General revealed the information in a press release. Sadly, this is not the first time that the U.S. Air Force (USAF) have had issues with improperly handled endoscopes. In September 2016, 267 patients at the Air Force Academy’s medical clinic in Colorado were notified that they were at risk for a number of infectious diseases due to improperly sterilized endoscopy equipment (Kime, 2016). While these instances are not exactly alike in circumstance, they do bring into question the training and quality of care provided by these clinics.

U.S. military and veteran clinics have consistently come under fire, over the past two decades, in no small part because of their failure to follow basic protocols that have been in place and consistently updated since the early 1990s. Numerous reports over the past two decades indicate a failure on the part of military and veteran medical personnel to protect patients from HIV, HBV, and HCV infection risks, causing many citizens and legislators to bring into question the quality of the healthcare provided. With rare exception, all of these incidents relate to the sterilization of medical implements that are supposed to be adhered to at every level of medical practice, from veterinarians to surgeons, and yet, military medical personnel just can’t seem to get it right.

Photo of Command Surgeon Colonel Walter Matthews

Source: LinkedIn

Every time one of these incidents occur, military personnel attempt to play down the risk of exposure: in the September 2016 Academy issue, Command Surgeon Colonel Walter Matthews said that the risk of infection to patients was “low, but it is not zero.” In the current scandal, Larine Barr, a spokeswoman for the surgeon general, said that the risk of infection is “very small, particularly in a deployed environment” (Losey, 2017). While these platitudes may be a great way to mollify everyone else, they serve as small comfort to those facing the risk of infection.

At what point will military and veteran medical personnel be subjected to the same level of scrutiny as every other part of the medical community? While timeliness and meeting deadlines is understandably important, these are the types of mistakes made by first-year trainees, not those in whose hands the lives and wellbeing of patients is being placed. Clearly, something needs to be done to ensure that all medical personnel are properly trained, and are consistently following every sterilization protocol; if they cannot live up to that very basic standard, they have no business providing medical services.

References:

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Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

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