In a bid to address the pressing issue of millions of African children lacking access to safe surgical and anaesthesia care, Smile Train, the world’s largest cleft organisation, has officially rolled out the Paediatric Anaesthesia Training in Africa (PATA) programme.
Initiated in collaboration with the ELMA Foundation and Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the PATA programme is set to be implemented at three African institutions: the University of Zambia, National Hospital in Abuja, Nigeria and Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. This training programme, endorsed by the World Federation of Societies of Anaesthesiologists (WFSA), aims to expand access to safe surgery and anaesthesia care through intensive year-long fellowships in paediatric anaesthesia. Additionally, through cooperation with the Ministry of Health, the program will facilitate the development of a paediatric anaesthesia policy.
During the programme’s launch, Smile Train vice-president and regional director for Africa, Mrs. Nkeiruka Obi emphasised that PATA aims to urgently strengthen paediatric surgical systems in the region to ensure the safety and quality of paediatric anaesthesia.
“Children in need of surgical treatment, such as those born with clefts or those who are injured, need timely surgery to live a productive life – but access to surgery means nothing if that surgery isn’t safe and high-quality. In many African countries, there is a significant shortage of skilled surgical and anaesthesia providers, compromising the quality of surgical services. As part of achieving Universal Health Coverage, PATA seeks to upskill more anaesthesia providers in the local community by strengthening the Human Resources for Health,” Obi stated.
The director of clinical care at Zambia’s Ministry of Health, Dr. Kennedy Lishimpi expressed support for the programme, stating, “As part of Zambia’s commitment to advancing Universal Health Coverage, we are pleased that the collaboration will strengthen paediatric anaesthesia care in the region. This program is aligned with the Government’s endeavours to implement a National Paediatric Surgical and Anaesthesia Plan”.
Research conducted by the Lancet Commission reveals that approximately 143 million surgical procedures are needed worldwide each year, with a substantial burden on the paediatric population. Furthermore, about 85 per cent of children may require some form of surgery before their 15th birthday. A recent study in Kenya, titled “Paediatric Perioperative Mortality in Kenya”, revealed that the mortality rate for paediatric procedures is 100 times higher than in high-income countries.
The director of health programmes at ELMA Philanthropies, Melissa Morrison emphasised their pride in partnering with Smile Train for the launch of the PATA programme. She highlighted the importance of a well-trained workforce in ensuring that children across Africa have access to safe surgical and anaesthesia care. Morrison emphasised the unacceptable disparities in surgical access and outcomes for children in Africa compared to high-income countries and noted that PATA graduates represent hope and a better future for thousands of children.
Several other institutions are collaborating on the implementation of the PATA programme, including African Mission Healthcare-Kenya, Boston Children’s Hospital, Kids Operating Room, University of Nairobi, Global Institute of Children’s Surgery, African Pediatric Fellowship in Africa, University of Cape Town, Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland and the Association of Anesthesiologists of Uganda (AAU).