The first patients, Ramadhan, Topista, Justine, Katongole, Matovu and Jordan, are between 3 and 11 years old, and were hospitalised for a range of medical conditions concerning the genital area, gastrointestinal tract, and supraumbilical hernias.
The new facility was designed pro bono by Renzo Piano, one of the world’s leading architects. After a meeting with Gino Strada, surgeon and founder of EMERGENCY, the two came together to create a state- of-the-art hospital where paediatric surgery meets with architecture of the highest level to create a facility where children from across the African continent can be referred for free, high-quality treatment.
Situated on the banks of Lake Victoria, almost 4,000 feet (1,200 m) above sea level, Emergency’s Children’s Surgical Hospital opened its doors on Monday 19 April.
The facility, located in Entebbe, has been ready for a year now, but the opening was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our first patient finally set foot in the centre on Monday. Ramadhan is almost three years old and needed an operation on his genital area. He was the first of many, many children who will receive surgery here, for birth defects, urological and gynaecological problems, gastrointestinal tract issues, diseases of the bile duct, and cleft lip.
At full capacity, the hospital will employ 385 local people, 179 of whom are medical workers. The ratio of local to foreign staff is four to one amongst the surgeons, nurses, pharmacists and technicians, while 95% of non-medics are Ugandan. The hospital will be dedicated to training Ugandan staff, who will go on to improve paediatric surgery and medical care in Uganda.
“Healthcare in Africa should be at the same level as it is in the Global North. This project comes with all the skills, equipment and technologies needed to start high-level surgery in an extraordinary facility. We are all part of the human family.
We are ‘equal in dignity and rights’, as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says. We have a responsibility to provide exactly the same level of treatment for African children that is expected in richer countries,” says Gino Strada, surgeon and founder of the hospital.
In Uganda, the mortality rate for children under five is 49 for every 1,000 live births, and 30% of those deaths are due to a lack of adequate surgery.
The Entebbe hospital has tripled the number of surgical beds for children in Uganda and will become a referral point for surgery from patients across the continent. It is the second facility in the African Network of Medical Excellence (ANME), after EMERGENCY’s Salam Centre for Cardiac Surgery, built in Khartoum, Sudan, in 2007.
The network was launched by Emergency and 11 African countries have signed up to it so far, with a view to building a chain of medical facilities of excellence that will meet specific medical needs continent-wide.
The facility has 100,000 square feet (9,700 m2) of floor space, three operating theatres, 72 beds – six for intensive care and 16 for sub-intensive care – an observation and stabilisation ward, six clinics, a radiology room, laboratory with a blood bank, CT scanner, pharmacy, administration, auxiliary services, a guesthouse for patients from afar, reception, medical training rooms, and an outdoor play area.
The project was developed pro bono by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop, in collaboration with TAMassociati and Emergency’s Building Division.
“Gino asked me to design a ‘scandalously beautiful’ hospital.
He uses that phrase because to some people, the idea of offering beauty and excellence to everyone, especially poor and marginalised people, is scandalous.
In Swahili, the concept of beauty is linked to goodness. There is no beauty without goodness,” says Renzo Piano.
The hospital’s walls are made of rammed earth, following a traditional building method that provides thermal inertia, keeping temperature and humidity constant inside the hospital. Particular care has gone into ensuring environmental sustainability, with approximately 2,500 solar panels covering one-third of the centre’s energy needs.
‘The country is not short of medical facilities or even a culture of medicine.