Kids in Africa are dying at an unbelievable rate from treatable/preventable illnesses and diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria, malnutrition and HIV . A lot of work has been done over the last decade to improve treatments, prevention and access to health care thanks to intervention from The World Health Organization and raising awareness and education on health issues. Despite the improvements, the highest rates of child mortality are still in Sub-Saharan Africa—where 1 in 9 children die before age five, more than 16 times the average for developed regions.
This week I had the opportunity to visit East Africa’s only public children’s hospital- Shoe4Africa in Eldoret, Kenya- thanks to a friend. I was really looking forward to seeing what Toby Tanser- the founder from America had achieved and been able to develop to help the children here.
In the hospital I felt almost just like a naive tourist, being a white person just coming to visit the children. What was I going to achieve by bringing some sweets for the kids? Their problems are so much bigger than me! We were welcomed warmly and escorted around the hospital by very friendly staff who told us about the different wards and the children they had staying.
As we walked around to all the different wards I was faced with the pain and horror of what these helpless children were dealing with. The highest number of cases they see are burn victims. We arrived into the ward just after dressing time and so a lot of the children were in pain, some crying out. One young boy we met, Oscar was sat with his right arm stretched out straight, bandaged from his hand all the way up and across his chest. He was in pain, crying and moaning, not being able to move. The worst part was they didn’t have even any Panadol, let alone pain killers to give him. When I asked the nurse what had happened to him she told me his story
He was playing with the neighbour’s children when their mother through chemicals on him and then lit him and his clothes on fire.
This shocked me, some people in this world are so cruel. Looking in Oscars face, full of agony, I just wanted to make everything better, give him a hug and take away his pain.
One of the reasons why they have so many burn victims is because of poverty. Many of the poorer families cook over holes in the ground or on small ‘Jikos’ which is a very low to the ground maintained charcoal fire pit. This makes it easy for children playing to knock over the fire, the boiling water or cooking fat or fall onto the fire pit, resulting in horrific burns. Also because Kenyans live quite spread out, especially in rural areas, they are far from a good hospital and proper medical care.
The hospital also has a lot of oncology patients with cancer becoming an epidemic across Africa. The number of cancer deaths has risen dramatically over the last decade with experts speculating that many cases may have been misdiagnosed until now. The last known stat was 9/10 children with cancer would die, compared to 1/10 in America. Shoe4Africa is working hard on their goal to decrease this number. Much like the rest of the world doctors here still have a lot to learn about cancer and its treatment. It was hard to see so many children hooked up to chemotherapy and suffering from the illness.
In the surgery ward we met a young girl by the name of Dorkis, she had just had an operation which was successful but was staying 8 days post op to be monitored. Her grandma was sitting with her when we visited and the nurse told us her story.
She had been bought to hospital and found to have 6 sewing needles inside her, mostly around her kidney. The nurse believed it was an assault case as the needles had been pushed in from the outside.
The case was under investigation by the police. How can anyone do something like that, and to such a small child. I was so angry. I was looking this little girl in the face, trying to make her smile, all the time I wanted to cry myself.
As we were shown around we quickly ran out of sweets, with 3x the people in need of cheering up. You see, the families were with the children as well, at least one parent was there, it seemed to me like they were camping out. Many of the families had traveled far to be here and came from rural areas and so had no where to stay close by. Some of the beds had a mother and father with a child asleep in between them. Despite the suffering there was a strong community feel in the rooms. The families that had been there a long time, some for 6 months had got to know each other and had become a support network for each other.
Walking into each new room was hard. I wanted to stop and say no more and just break down and cry. But as I entered again and again, I realised this wasn’t about me. As soon as they saw us visitors, their faces lit up, the patients and parents smiled and welcomed us into their room.
I had to stay strong just to try to put a smile on their face. As we went into the malnutrition room, and disability ward we met paralysed, disfigured and amputee children. I greeted everyone I could with a handshake and my best Kiswahili while trying to be happy and enthusiastic. It was nice to see them smile and I hope we at least brightened their day a little.
My favourite part about Kenya is the people and especially the children. They are so innocent and enthusiastic, especially when they see a ‘mzungu’. For me interacting with the children of Kenya makes my day, they always make me smile, so to see the children like this crushed me.
The hospital has a capacity of 150 beds, which is much more than it was originally built for. However, they are always over their capacity, some children sharing beds and the staff are over worked. The hospital was no where near the standards of home but in perspective, much better than what the children would get without it.
Before having access to a children’s hospital the children could only go to a public adults hospital. They would wait in a waiting room without ever being seen. The adults are seen as a higher priority because if an adult dies, then upto 10 children will become orphans with most Kenyans having big families. Therefore it is more important to save an adults life so that they can take care of their children. Some children would wait in a waiting room for 3 days or more or die waiting.
Shoe4Africa hospital is built with the children in mind, it is colourful and bright with natural light. It has natural airflow to keep it fresh and stop contamination. They have play rooms at the end of the corridor on each floor and a bigger playroom outside for kids who are mobile. The nurse told us that this year they are building 2 classrooms so that the patients can continue their studies and schooling when they have extended stays- which seemed like a lot of them. This is such a great idea I was very happy to hear, education is so important and no child should miss out.
In one of the playrooms the nurse showed us how they prepare children for procedures. They have folders with photos of rooms within the hospital where they will go to have x-rays, CT scans and surgery. They show photos of the machines, the procedures and the doctors and surgeons in their full uniform so that the child knows what to expect and make them feel more comfortable. Such a great idea.
The children’s hospital itself is within the Moi University complex where medical students train to become nurses and doctors. By having this facility here, not only are the children being given a much better chance, the students are also given more opportunities and therefore a more developed and wider medical community for the Kenyan people.
As we left the hospital I had mixed emotions. I was thankful for the hospital having been built and providing these children with the care they desperately need. I was grateful to have shared some moments of happiness with the patients and their families. Above all though I was sad, I felt helpless, I wanted to do more, save all of these children, make them all better, take away their pain, and build another 100 hospitals! I am hoping to come back to Shoe4Africa again and bring more visitors to see the children and put a smile on their face, for now if that’s all I can do at least its something.
Find out more about Shoe4Africa and how you can get involved here: