Sandra Lako: Operation oxygen was a success

oxygen concentratorsOver the Christmas holiday $11,760 was raised for oxygen concentrators for the Children’s Hospital in Sierra Leone. This is enough for at least 8 new concentrators. Last year I was amazed to raise $5,000 for our water charity, this year I’m blown away. Friends, family, churches, and strangers have all given generously to this cause. Thank you!

With only 6 oxygen concentrators at the Children’s Hospital before, children had very limited access to oxygen. Often one machine was shared between 4 children. Obviously this was not sufficient. Imagine how parents in the UK would react if they knew their sick child was only receiving ¼ of the oxygen that he or she needed. Unfortunately parents in Sierra Leone do not have much choice. Thankfully, with the money donated to the Welbodi Partnership, through my church, my justgiving campaign, and other donations from the UK, we were able to buy 11 oxygen concentrators. Seven of them arrived at the hospital a week and a half ago, the other four are due to arrive in the next two weeks. This means that we have more than doubled the number of oxygen concentrators in the hospital. Hopefully we can use each concentrator for one or two children, rather than three or four, increasing the amount of oxygen each child receives. I am certain that this will have an impact on child survival in the hospital.

Like everything else here, a bit of effort was involved in getting the concentrators to the hospital. The concentrators were sent by DHL to Lungi airport, which meant that after attempting to get duty free concession from the Ministry (but failing) I headed to the airport with one of the Ministry’s procurement officers. I left home at 6am to be at the hospital by 6:45am, ready to leave by 7 am to catch the 8 am ferry across to Lungi. All went well and even the paperwork seemed to be moving along until I was told there was a small problem. Because the shipment had been sitting at the airport for more than a week we were told we had to pay a significant fee. The fee was very high and of course, we had not been informed that this fee existed. After explaining that the concentrators were for the government run Children’s Hospital and some further discussion, we finally got an okay. The paperwork was (slowly) signed off, and the concentrators were released. Time was ticking away and we literally pulled up to the 11 am ferry just before it was set to leave the terminal. We made it back to the hospital around 1 pm and offloaded the concentrators. The next morning one of my colleagues and I assembled the concentrators, we tested them, marked them, and delivered them to the wards. It felt like Christmas. I was so happy and so were the staff. Before we knew it, the machines were switched on, blowing out oxygen, and children were benefiting.

Sandra Lako is a doctor from the Netherlands who previously spent four and a half years in Sierra Leone setting up and managing a pediatric outpatient clinic with an organisation called Mercy Ships. After a year at home, she returned to Sierra Leone to volunteer as medical coordinator with the Welbodi Partnership, a UK based charity supporting the only government-run children’s hospital in a country where 1 in 5 children do not reach the age of five.