Safe Surgery for a New Generation

Pediatric Anesthesia Training in Senegal

In June 2022, more than 30 Senegalese healthcare professionals boarded the Global Mercy to equip themselves with new skills in safe surgery that could save countless vulnerable young lives.

“People think babies and children are just miniature adults, but actually, they have their own set of problems that are unique,” said Mercy Ships volunteer anesthesiologist Dr. Sarah Kwok.

One study of four low-income countries suggested that 19% of children had a surgical need, and well over half of those needs were unmet. Many inadequately trained anesthesia providers are hesitant to treat children. And some anesthesiologists in the sub-Saharan region of Africa say that they don’t have the resources to provide basic anesthesia for a child under 5 years old.

“There are so many children in sub-Saharan Africa. Up to 50% of the population are under the age of 15 years,” Dr. Sarah Kwok, Mercy Ships Volunteer Anesthesiologist said. “So, it’s really important that people are equipped and trained to deal with these unique situations and pediatric emergencies.” 

That’s where the SAFE Pediatric Anesthesia course comes in. Delivered through the Mercy Ships Medical Capacity Building program and led by Dr. Kwok, this course and several others throughout the month of June marked the first time the fleet’s newest hospital ship lowered her gangway to operate as a floating training center. 

“It’s going to be the beginning of something really exciting,” said Dr. Kwok.

The four-week training series was supported by the government of Senegal, as part of a larger effort by African nations to examine and strengthen local surgical, obstetric, and anesthetic systems. With the recent commitment to the historic Dakar Declaration, several nations are forging ahead with making key improvements by 2030.

Exponential Impact

Since leaving her home in England to volunteer with Mercy Ships in 2019, Dr. Kwok’s primary role has been Anesthesia Supervisor. In that position, she serves patients directly on the organization’s other hospital ship, the Africa Mercy®. But the work she does training local doctors and nurses has a wider impact that reverberates in the long term.

By the time a Medical Capacity Building course is complete, some of the students have been trained to become trainers themselves. That means they’re certified to administer the course at their own hospitals, exponentially increasing the impact and the reach of the training.

The SAFE Pediatric Anesthesia course covers the delivery of anesthesia, complications, pain management, trauma, specialized care of sick children, and newborn resuscitation. 

“A lot of what we teach is also about the environment, and it’s about human factors and safe practice,” said Dr. Kwok. “I can’t wait to see the impact.”

SAFE Pediatric Anesthesia uses the Safer Anesthetic from Education (SAFE) approach developed by the World Federation of Societies of Anesthesiologists and by the Association of Anesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland. SAFE courses have been taught in 43 different countries.

“The great thing about SAFE is it uses many different teaching modalities in order to impart knowledge and skills, so we do things by lectures, and also with scenarios and simulation, as well as teaching skills,” said Dr. Kwok. “The combination of all these things is, it imparts more information at the time of delivery.” 

Just the Beginning

Dr. Kwok has now returned to her daily role on board the Africa Mercy in the Port of Dakar. Meanwhile, the Global Mercy is undergoing maintenance in the Canary Islands before returning to Senegal in early 2023 for her first full field service. This will be her first time operating on patients, but Medical Capacity Building will continue to be one of the ship’s core missions.

Together with Senegalese healthcare professionals, partners, and supporters from around the world, training programs like Pediatric Anesthesia have the potential to make life-changing and lifesaving care accessible to more people than ever. But the journey to safe surgery is just beginning.