We must step up quality of surgery for our children

Pediatricians perform a surgery on a child at the Nakuru Level Five Hospital during a surgical camp on October 26,2022. [Kennedy Gachuhi, Standard]

A doctor was in the middle of operating on a one-year-old baby. As the norm with every operation, the anaesthesia team was present, monitoring the baby’s oxygen levels.

Suddenly, something was not right, the baby’s blood was quickly turning dark brown and within a few minutes, the heartbeat was gone. Was the anaesthesia machine faulty and it could not be detected? A crisis ensued and the operation could not proceed until the problem was solved. This is just an example of how delicate it is to operate on children and the importance of adequate anaesthesia provision.

Currently, Kenya has 20 paediatric surgeons with 14 based in Nairobi. This is attributed to social and financial dynamics where most wealth is concentrated in the city. However, healthcare challenges are multifaceted and require wider approach.

Specialised training is one: Providing anaesthesia to children demands distinct skills and expertise due to their unique physiological and psychological needs. Unlike adults, paediatric patients are twice delicate when it comes to surgery and require individualised care.

Until 2013 when the University of Nairobi partnered with World Federation of Societies of Anaesthesiologists, individuals had to seek paediatric anaesthesia training outside Kenya. Another factor is inadequate resources: Access to modern medical equipment and facilities is crucial to ensure safe administration of anaesthesia to children.

Last week, I attended the launch of the Society of Paediatric Anaesthesiologists of Kenya (SPAK). The society aims to grow capacity of this speciality and meet the high burden of surgical needs. It seeks to enhance training and capacity by among them, working with county governments and hospitals. The society will roll out short courses to improve knowledge and skills.

Research and data collection is another area the society aims to reinforce. Medical institutions, universities and government agencies can generate data and research. This data will help identify trends, challenges, and areas requiring intervention.

There is also strengthening collaboration between healthcare institutions, professional societies and international organisations in sharing knowledge, expertise and resources. Partnering with global initiatives on paediatric anaesthesia can help leverage their experience and resources to improve quality of care in Kenya. At Kids Operating Room, as a global health charity, we support hospitals with paediatric equipment worth USD300,000 per operating room that we install. Among the equipment is a modern anaesthesia machine.

Additionally, we support countries in Sub-Saharan African in collaboration with College of Anaesthesiologists of East, Central and Southern Africa (CANECSA) to develop an e-learning platform on paediatric anaesthesia. Specialists also comfortably perform complex surgeries such as co-joined twins among others. Without functional anaesthesia machine and skilled anaesthetists, surgery in children is highly compromised.

The writer is the Africa Director Kids Operating Room. [email protected]