Sandra Lako: Oxygen for the feeding centre

Sandra LakoLast week Monday the final four oxygen concentrators from the “Operation Oxygen” campaign made it to Ola During Children’s Hospital. Thanks to all of you who contributed generously to this campaign. Of course, it was a bit of an epic journey to get the shipment from the airport to the hospital, but after many phone calls, negotiations, and bribe avoiding tactics we managed. Unfortunately getting shipments out of the airport or port is still a big hassle for most non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

This past Saturday I went to the Children’s Hospital, to deliver large bags of leftover bread rolls that the Africa Mercy wanted to give away. Fortunately there was plenty to go around for all of the patients and staff. While I was there, I thought I would assemble the oxygen concentrators, label them, and test them to make sure they were in good working order. All of the units worked, and so four more oxygen concentrators were ready to roll (picture).
oxygen concentrators

Today, I thought it would be good to bring a concentrator to the therapeutic feeding centre. After all, they have never been able to give oxygen there and they do often have severely malnourished children with severe pneumonia, or other illnesses causing respiratory distress. Up until today, malnourished children needing oxygen were sent to the ICU for admission; meaning their feeds were (unfortunately) not monitored as well as they would be in the nutrition unit.

After checking with matron in the morning, I went to the feeding center to tell the nurses they would receive a brand new oxygen concentrator, and they were delighted. They have been asking for oxygen on their ward for their patients for months now.

Since there is an oxygen concentrator in the feeding centre, it means that the malnourished children in need of oxygen can remain there and receive both oxygen as well as 3 hourly feeds of F-75 or F-100 milk, along with the other medical care they need. Being able to keep these children in the nutrition unit will hopefully improve care and will prove to be yet another small step in the right direction. We do realise of course, that in some cases children may need to stay in the ICU for more intensive monitoring.

Unfortunately, when the power went off later in the day, we realised that the feeding centre is not yet connected to the back-up generator provided by Welbodi and so the oxygen concentrator stopped working. Our next aim is to make sure the feeding centre gets connected to that generator. Small steps. One at a time. We’ll get there someday.

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.