Need to invest in more paediatric theatres in Kenya

paediatric theatres

The growth of a dedicated cadre of professionals ensures a sustainable source of expertise for the youngest members of society.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

In June, Baragoi Sub-County Health Centre celebrated the success of the first caesarean section procedure, 69 years after the establishment of the hospital. Why after all those years? The health centre had been equipped with the necessary surgical equipment, skills and human resources.

Last month, Homa Bay County was recognised for strides it had made in the health sector. Separate mother and child wings are now on the increase, showing investment into child health. When we talk of challenges of access to surgical services for children, the assumption, often, is that we are primarily focusing on complex surgeries.

However, it is that “simple” procedure of a broken finger, club foot or cleft-lip that majority of children experience and end up waiting, sometimes for years, for a surgery date.

Felicity fell while playing and injured her arm. Her grandmother — and only guardian — took her to the nearest health centre where she received first aid before being referred to a regional hospital. As the pain had subsided, her grandmother did not seek further attention as their financial situation was also dire.

About a week later, Felicity began to complain of pain. Her grandmother, seeing the agony her granddaughter was going through, asked for financial help from neighbours. Felicity was admitted to Makueni Referral Hospital.

Imaging revealed a severe fracture on her arm. Felicity underwent an open reduction and internal fixation procedure — a surgical procedure repairing fractured bone using plates, screws, or rods. At 10 years of age, had Felicity not received the care she needed, a long-term disability would likely have occurred.

Numerous studies have shown that when children share theatres with adults, the paediatric surgical teams only get a day dedicated to elective surgeries. This means elective cases can wait for years before one gets an appointment, something all too common with hernia patients, for example.

We continue to stress that children are not small adults, and their healthcare requirements are distinct.

Neonatal conditions, birth defects, and surgical interventions in adolescents demand a level of expertise and specialised care that should be provided through dedicated paediatric operating theatres and expertise.

By acknowledging these unique needs, then we create foundations for a healthier future for our children. Seeking timely and specialised care, families have navigated complex healthcare systems, often at great expense.

The establishment of dedicated paediatric operating theatres in all regional hospitals would not only provide a more accessible option but also alleviate the financial and emotional burdens on families. It is comforting to note that 80 per cent of the population is within two hours of a hospital that is equipped to perform basic operations such as an open fracture.

Furthermore, the establishment of paediatric operating theatres necessitates the training and development of skilled paediatric surgeons and healthcare professionals. This investment not only ensures specialised care for children but also invests in the future of healthcare.

The growth of a dedicated cadre of professionals ensures a sustainable source of expertise for the youngest members of society.

Children’s theatres will also promote quality and safety which are non-negotiable in healthcare. These factors are best ensured through dedicated paediatric surgical facilities as theatres are equipped with specialised instruments.

At Kids Operating Room, we partner with government hospitals and other bodies to equip and renovate theatres dedicated for children. For each theatre we provide approximately 3,000 pieces of paediatric equipment. We have witnessed the difference this makes not only in increasing the number of children who receive surgical services but also quality outcomes of surgeries.

Tomorrow, as we observe this year’s World Children’s Day theme, inclusion for every child, let us remember, investing in paediatric operating theatres is not merely a venture in healthcare infrastructure; it is an investment in the future of Kenya. It is a promise that our children will have access to timely, high-quality surgical care, ensuring a brighter future for our nation.

- Ms Mugwe is the Director - Africa, Kids Operating Room