More children aged between five and 14 die every year from surgically treatable injuries than malaria, HIV and TB combined. So it’s great to hear of a partnership between children’s charities Smile Train and Kids Operating Room (KidsOR) to support the training and education of 40 paediatric surgeons across Africa in partnership with the West African College of Surgeons (WACS) and the College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa (COSECSA).

Worldwide, a severe shortage in the surgical workforce contributes to limited access to safe, affordable, and timely surgical care for an estimated five billion people.

Scholarship candidates from South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Malawi, Liberia, and Tanzania are already in session at various training institutions under COSECSA and WACS, with additional candidates expected from Lesotho, Eswatini and Sierra Leone.

40 Surgeons in Africa to Receive Scholarships for Paediatric Needs

The scholarships, which support recipients for a duration of three to six years depending on the course of study, cover the cost of exam registration and fees, transport, and visas for the country in which the recipients are training.

“KidsOR aims to give every child access to safe surgery. Through scholarships, we seek to find the gaps and identify the best ways to support junior doctors through their studies with resources to help drive the quality, skill sets and confidence of new graduates. We want to help strengthen local workforces to create sustainable healthcare systems,” Rosemary Mugwe, Africa Director of KidsOR – which was Founded in Scotland and operates in both Edinburgh and Dundee – says of the partnership.

Smile Train empowers local medical professionals with training, funding, and resources to provide free cleft surgery and comprehensive cleft care to children globally.

“At the core of Smile Train’s ‘teach a man to fish’ model is capacity building and sustainably empowering local healthcare professionals in the cleft ecosystem,” says Smile Train Vice-President and Regional Director for Africa, Mrs. Nkeiruka Obi.

“Smile Train is committed to supporting the education and training of medical professionals, and we are excited to expand this work with KidsOR to strengthen the surgical systems and increase access to safe, quality, surgical care in low- and middle-income countries thereby providing consistently available and cultural appropriate care for patients with cleft.”

Smile Train partner Professor Roumanatou Bankole, who is a Fellow of the West African College of Surgeons (FWACS), a Smile Train International Scholar, and Professor of Pediatric Surgery at Teaching Hospital of Treichville, welcomed the partnership, emphasizing the need for quality education and training for the surgeons.

“Africa is lacking in qualified paediatric surgeons and 143 million additional surgical procedures are needed each year to prevent disability in low- and middle-income countries. This partnership creates a lot of opportunities for education and training among younger surgeons to bridge the gap,” said Prof. Bankole.

Currently, Burundi has no paediatric surgeon in the country. That will soon change, however, as two doctors – Dr Alliance Niyukuri and Dr Carlos Nsengiyumva – are among the cohort that will be supported by the scholarships offered by Smile Train and KidsOR. Similarly, when scholarship recipients from Eswatini, Liberia, Lesotho and South Sudan complete their studies, they will be the first pediatric surgeons within their countries.

Dr. Alicia Messenga, a paediatric surgeon at Bugando Medical Centre, Mwanza, Tanzania, has recently qualified as a paediatric surgeon on a KidsOR scholarship. “Successful completion of my studies has benefitted our community as paediatric patients get the specialist care they need,” she said.“As BMC is also a university teaching hospital, surgical students get exposure to paediatric surgery now that we have a paediatric surgery unit in the hospital thanks to KidsOR and Smile Train.”

Through funding from Smile Train, KidsOR is also implementing the re-modelling of operating rooms in 23 hospitals across 18 countries over the next five years. The partners have successfully delivered state-of-the-art pediatric theatres at Bugando Medical Centre, (Mwanza, Tanzania); University Hospital Medical Centre (Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire); Armed Forces Specialist Hospital (Kano, Nigeria) and Bethesda Hospital (Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo).

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Nisha Kotecha is the Founder of Good News Shared. Having worked and volunteered for charities in the UK for over 10 years, Nisha is on a mission to highlight how amazing charities are.

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