As a clinical assistant in the paediatrics ward at Nyangao hospital, Tanzania, Godfrey Kambanga has his work cut out for him. Understaffing, lack of training and resources has kept neonatal mortality rates amongst the highest in the country. His own patient roster can reach nearly 70 sick children and babies a day.
VSO volunteers and Dr Siobhan Neville and Dr Peter O’Reilly are paediatricians tasked with supporting the development and training of the Neonatal Intensive Care unit in Nyangao and other hospitals in the region. Working with them has given Godfrey a new set of skills and energy when treating his patients.
I enjoy treating children as a clinical assistant. I hold most of the ward rounds and that is my favourite thing to do. I like to see the improvements made by a baby that I have examined when I visit them the next day.
Shortage of doctors
Usually, there’s a shortage of doctors in Nyangao hospital, Lindi. I often see between 50-70 babies and children a day myself. There are only nine doctors on staff.
I do outreach work too. There’s a big challenge when working with mothers who don’t want to give birth at the hospital. After a couple of days if their baby gets worse, they end up bringing their children into hospital anyway.
Before VSO volunteers came to the hospital, we didn’t examine newborns properly. They often just died, usually from sepsis, infections or jaundice. I didn’t really know that they needed to be examined differently.
I don’t want to see babies dying.
VSO volunteers introduced a checklist for health workers, nurses and clinical assistants like me to use. It helps us look for things like whether the baby is moving, breathing, has a normal skin colour or body temperature. It helps us find out whether the baby has an infection, and whether they need antibiotics. If the baby doesn’t sleep well, then we know that it needs to be treated. If it has jaundice then it needs to be treated.
It’s a cheap tool and it saves newborns.
Working with VSO volunteer Dr ‘Sam’ (Siobhan Neville) makes me happy. She’s someone who can teach very well. She has taught me how to use a lumbar puncture on newborns and how to examine the hip joint. I’ve learnt a lot.
The previous volunteer Dr Sandra taught me how to screen babies within the first eight hours and then within 24 hours, and also how to insert a nasogastric tube.
Another of my favourite things is to discharge a newborn within 24 hours. I’m always happy telling a mother that her baby is normal. I tell them that if the baby isn’t ‘normal’, to bring them back; for example if it isn’t breast feeding well or not moving or has constipation.
VSO being here helps us. It helps us to teach mothers when to bring their babies back and when it needs to be referred. They help us organise cars to deliver the outreach programme. Without them, babies will die. We need VSO.
Thank you, because the money raised for VSO has helped me to be a good clinical officer and help the newborns.
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