By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
A team of German pediatric surgeons in collaboration with Choithram Memorial Hospital have been conducting free surgeries in Sierra Leone on poor and needy patients below 18 years of age.
The surgeries, done under the umbrella of Bintumani-German Sierra Leone Society, started on the 8th of February, 2019 and will run up to the 23rd of February.
So far a total of 56 surgeries have been successfully performed at the Choithram Hospital at Hill Station, Freetown, according to the team.
“On the first day, we did eight (8) surgeries and another nine on the second day,” said Dr. Ibrahim Al Naieb, one of the surgeons. “One of the operations was very complicated but it was very good we did it for the patient. We are hoping to perform surgeries on up to 100 patients and we are sure of doing all of them.”
The cases dealt with so far include Hernia, Fistula repair and closure, Hypospadias, Hydrocele, Colostomy closure, Cryptorchidism and Contracture release.
When we visited the Choithram Hospital on the second day, one year eight months-old Sirah has just been operated on and she was sound asleep with both her parents by her bed. Her father said she was born with an unusually big belly button which gets bigger whenever she cries.
“When we first took her to a hospital, they told us she was suffering from Umbilical hernia and they advised us to do the operation when she is two years old. But when we heard about the team of doctors coming from Germany to perform free operations, we decided to make use of the opportunity,” said Sirah’s father.
“She has been crying a lot and we’ve had countless sleepless nights since she was born. It has not been easy for me as a mother; sometimes she would just start to cry bitterly from her sleep and I would be confused, not knowing what to do,” said the mother.
“We prayed for a successful operation when the doctors were performing the surgery early this morning. The outcome so far looks good. We can only thank God and the doctors for this free surgery. It is a big blessing and God will surely reward them for their humanitarian work.”
Three year-old Alhassan also had a successful surgery. He was suffering from Inguinal hernia, according to the doctors.
Before she came to learn about the visiting team of German surgeons from a staff at Choithram Hospital, Alhassan’s mother said she has endured a lot and has tried almost everything, including native medicine, to cure her son.
“My son has suffered a lot. I also feel the pain as her mother. But I am happy now and I give thanks to God after a successful operation,” said the mother.
Alimamy, 11, is another successful case after undergoing Fistula repair. As a result of the way he was circumcised he urinates abnormally, with three openings to his penis.
Similarly, four year-old Elijah was diagnosed with Hypospadia sub mid-shaft. His father said it is a condition since birth, with the child’s piss hole in the wrong place.
The surgery involves closing the wrong hole and opening another one at the correct place at the tip of the penis.
“We believe it’s much better now and we thank God the abnormality has been corrected,” said the father, who learnt about the visiting team of German doctors via a notice on WhatsApp.
The doctors are examining the patients before and after operation and so far it’s all going perfectly well. All surgeries, including cost of drugs, stay in hospital and food, are totally free as patients do not have to spend anything while at the Choithram Hospital.
“We are thankful for the personal support we are getting from the doctors on the ground to help us do what we have done here,” said Dr. Ibrahim. “We decided to come to Choithram hospital because of the organization, especially the theatre and very good and competent staff. We are very satisfied with their work so far.”
In the team is Madeleine Martin, who can relate well with the patients and their parents or guardians. She is the coordinator and speaks the local language Krio satisfactorily, having lived in the small West African country for five years.
“Everything is going on well and we are happy to be here because the organization is good and the facilities at the hospital are okay,” she said.
Madeleine’s role is to contact the partners about the coming of the surgeons and to coordinate with the six partners on the type of surgeries to be done.
The patients come mostly from the capital city, Freetown and some from the provinces. The local partners (Love for Love NGO, Aberdeen Women Center, Ola During Children’s Hospital, Gila Hospital in Bo and Choithram Hospital) do pre-screening of the patients before submitting the lists to the visiting team. The team of six include an anesthesiologist and two pediatric surgeons doing most of the operations.
“We have plans to do the same for the provinces and I think next time we will go to Bo, because some of the children are coming from the provinces and not Freetown alone. We have an organization in the provinces that are looking at which kind of operation they have and how we can help them,” said Dr. Ibrahim, adding that they chose children below 18 because it’s not very far and secondly, the quality of the facilities available.
“We are sure that in Sierra Leone, general surgeons can operate adults but little children are very difficult to operate as a result of the lack of pediatric surgeons; we understand there’s only one in the country,” he said.
The German team of surgeons have been visiting Sierra Leone once annually since 2010 to perform free surgeries on poor and needy children. The team include: Dr. Ibrahim Al Naieb, Dr. Tilman Gresing, Dr. Sonke Sceunemann, Dr. (Mrs.) Kathrin Ruesse, Mrs. Esther Kaeufler and Mrs. Madeleine Martin.
Sierra Leonean/German in Germany Dr. Morley Wright (brother of the late Dr. E.D.O. Wright) is part of the program but did not join the team this year.
Note: Parents granted permission to use photos of patients mentioned in this article. Faces of patients distorted for ethical reasons.