Kids Operating Room formally launched in January 2018, however our team had been working in the development of healthcare systems and children’s surgery long before then.
Co-founders Garreth and Nicola Wood tells us how Kids Operating Room started:
The first project we worked on together was in Uganda. It was the development of a dedicated Operating Room for children’s surgery in the capital city, Kampala. This had come about after learning of the exceptional work Dr John Sekabira who was trying to care for as many of the country’s 20 million children as he possibly could.
Making the case for space
Each morning Dr Sekabira would go to the hospital and make the case for his patients, hoping to be given access to an operating room. Sometimes he was successful, sometimes other surgeons (treating only adults) would be allocated the rooms. On those days, even urgent cases would go unanswered.
The solution, to us, seemed simple. We’d create a dedicated operating room for children’s surgery, with its own admissions and recovery space.
This would give Dr Sekabira his own space, meaning he could operate on many more children. It would increase the amount of time trainees spent operating too, which would drive up quality and capacity; and help establish children’s surgery as an independent specialty within Uganda’s healthcare system. Finally bringing a voice to the country's children in such desperate need of care.
Importantly, this approach also allowed us to create a child-friendly environment that would let worried children, and their worried parents, know that they were in a safe space created just for them.
The one-off became the beginning
In early 2015, this vision became a reality, we created Uganda’s first ever dedicated operating room for children’s surgery. This project was to be a ‘one-off’. Needless to say, things didn’t quite work out that way.
With a second operating room opening in Uganda shortly after and then further developments in Malawi and Tanzania, it became clear that the demand for our work was overwhelming; that the unique approach of creating surgical infrastructure around existing doctors was highly impactful and respectful; and for the true potential of this approach to be realised we needed a full-time focus.
It was also clear from the growing requests for support that this was an intervention that was going to be highly sought after, yet no one else was providing this focused support for children’s surgery.
A global vision
And so, from a one-off project in 2015 to the formation of Kids Operating Room just a few short years later, Nicola and I were delighted to bring together the same expert team that worked on that first project in Uganda to now drive forward a global vision bringing safe surgery to every child in need.
Join us in this life-saving cause
Since forming Kids Operating Room we have sustained a program of opening world-class, child-friendly operating rooms in low-resource settings at more than one a month. Our plan is to increase this pace of delivery as we further develop our local networks, expand our regional offices and welcome new donors to this life-saving cause.
Support the surgeons working so hard to serve humanity
Importantly, our work is always focused on supporting the local doctor to care for their patient. We never send surgeons from high income countries to do the job of a local surgeon in one of our partner countries - instead we support the local team to deliver truly exceptional care. We believe this creates sustainable healthcare systems and that it is respectful of the incredible people already working in these countries.
Every child should be treated the same
And since beginning we have remained focused on improving access to essential surgery for sick children - refusing to deviate from this mission until every child has the care they need. We have evolved how we achieve this, now supporting the training of specialist surgeons and anaesthesia providers, for example, to help bring our vision to fruition sooner. And, when necessary, we will also now speak up and advocate on behalf of children whose voices are not being heard in debates about who should get access to healthcare resources.
Otherwise, our approach remains as it always has been - focused on the development of high-quality infrastructure designed around the local team’s skillset.
This approach is proving to be highly effective - allowing a growing number of children to access the life-saving or life-changing care they need every single year. As that care now expands across low-and middle-income countries around the world we are immensely proud of what has been achieved so far, and of the vision we all share for every child to have access to the care they need.
We won’t stop until that is no longer a vision but a reality.
Garreth and Nicola Wood