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Liberia: MSF Opens Paediatric Surgery Program

20 Feb 2018

Médecins Sans Frontières has opened a new paediatric surgical program at Bardnesville Junction Hospital (BJH) on the outskirts of Liberia's capital Monrovia, with the goal of making surgical care more available for children in the country.

Liberia pediatric surgery

We established BJH as a paediatric hospital in 2015, as the West African Ebola epidemic made it more difficult for Liberia's medical community to meet healthcare needs. From January 11 the facility has expanded its medical services to include emergency and non-emergency surgery for children. BJH already serves as a training site for Liberian nurses, and the surgical program will also provide practical training opportunities for Liberian surgical residents and nurse anaesthetists.

"The needs for paediatric surgery here are extensive, and the program has been quite busy in its first few weeks"

"The needs for paediatric surgery here are extensive, and the program has been quite busy in its first few weeks," said Dr John Lawrence, an MSF paediatric surgeon at BJH and the president of the board of MSF USA. "Because there has not been a facility with a dedicated paediatric surgical team here before, there are a wide variety of cases that require paediatric surgery." MSF Australia paediatrics medical advisor Dr Nikola Morton, who recently visited our program in Liberia, said that the country’s troubled history has taken its toll on its health system. 

“Liberia experienced a prolonged period of civil war so recently, and then Ebola on top of that,” Dr Morton said. “This is a country that has had blow after blow, and so now has very few health professionals, as many have sadly been killed or have left Liberia. I met a woman who was the only paediatrician in Liberia until recently. She was trained in South Africa, and came back to Liberia to work because she saw the need. For me, that really answered the question of why MSF needs to be there,” Dr Morton said. “It’s going to take years of rebuilding to get to the point where Liberia has a fully-functional health system again to meet all the needs of the population.”

“This is a country that has had blow after blow, and so now has very few health professionals, as many have sadly been killed or have left Liberia"

It is hoped that the new facilities at BJH will play a key role in reaching that goal. Some of the first surgeries performed at BJH included hernia repairs, a laparotomy (abdominal surgery) for a child with an intestinal condition called intussusception, and the draining of a liver abscess for a three-year-old boy. Paediatric surgeons typically have expertise in operating on children with congenital problems or paediatric diseases that general surgeons are unfamiliar with. Paediatric anaesthesia also requires specific training and expertise.

“Most hospitals in Liberia have had MSF in their history at some point, whether we rehabilitated the building or supported it for a time”

“Most hospitals in Liberia have had MSF in their history at some point, whether we rehabilitated the building or supported it for a time,” Dr Morton said. “It’s fitting that we continue that legacy with our plans to expand the scope of surgical activities for children—a speciality area that’s been understandably overlooked—in the coming months and years.”

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