Scots charity building paediatric operating room for refugees

Edinburgh-based Kids Operating Room (KidsOR) was founded by Garreth and Nicola Wood.

Health: Nicola and Garreth Wood.
Health: Nicola and Garreth Wood.

The first paediatric operating room in a refugee camp is to be built by a Scottish charity, it has been announced at the World Economic Forum.

Edinburgh-based Kids Operating Room (KidsOR) was founded by Garreth and Nicola Wood and has already installed 25 paediatric operating rooms in 11 countries across Africa and South America.

With equipment shipped from their warehouse in Dundee, more than 16,000 operations have been carried out on children which the global health charity say has prevented 250,000 years of disability.

They will now extend their work to the Kakuma camp in Kenya, which opened in 1992 and has a population of around 190,000 refugees – many of them women and children – representing 22 nationalities.

Speaking from Davos, Switzerland, Mr Wood said providing such care was something he and his wife believe is “a basic human right”.

He said: “The World Health Organisation figures now say two billion children around the world cannot access the essential surgical care they need.

“Nicola and I are parents, our own children are very lucky because they were born in the UK and have required surgical intervention, so we know of the pain and anguish on not just the child but the parents, families and communities.

“We’re both incredibly proud we’ve been able to facilitate this opportunity.

“We’re surprising ourselves with what we’ve achieved in the last two years, but actually we’re working very hard to make it happen.

“Where Nicola and I get most joy is from being in the operating room, watching that first child have surgery after we’ve spent hundreds of thousands of pounds, but also time on the ground working and developing relationships, and we get to witness that joy.

“As much as it’s exciting to be in Davos I wouldn’t trade that for one day being in an operating room watching a child’s life be transformed.”

The announcement was made on Wednesday morning during the annual meeting where US president Donald Trump and climate activist Greta Thunberg are among the main speakers.

Of the charity’s current 25 operating rooms, 18 are situated in sub-Saharan Africa but all are in “stable settings” compared to the plans for Kakuma.

Mr Wood added: “Our core business up until this point has been looking at opportunities within hospitals across low and middle income countries and this opportunity has come to us at Davos.

“Displaced children are just as worthy of essential healthcare as anyone else so it’s an opportunity we see to help thousands of children and to provide essential care that they need.”

Neema Kaseje, a paediatric surgeon and public health specialist originally from Kenya, is part of the KidsOR advisory board.

She said: “Africa is a focus because Africa hosts more than 26% of the world’s refugee population.

“Usually in these settings you would find there isn’t any equipment for children or infrastructure that is adapted to children, therefore providing surgical services for children in these settings is very difficult.

“This is actually quite new and it’s great KidsOR has taken the lead in this area and this could actually serve as a model for other humanitarian contexts beyond Africa.”

As well as finding a versatile room to use, surgeons already at the camp will gain further training with additional teams joining from time to time to help in more complex cases.

Ms Kaseje added: “I’ll be involved in the training and I’ve done it before in Haiti where I was the only paediatric surgeon in the public hospital for a year.

“I trained up 12 general surgeons who were then able to take care of children; this is something I’ve done before and the need is even greater in this setting.”