Togo: Surgical Care & Education
Population: 7.798 million
In recent years, Togo has begun to see an epidemiological transition, with non-communicable diseases increasingly becoming a greater threat. This indicates the progress that has been made in this very poor country to address persistent communicable health threats, including HIV and TB. However, outside of the capital city, Lomé, health worker concentration is incredibly low, and the overall supply system to deliver essential medicines is weak. With a population beset by extreme poverty, access to quality healthcare is often an impossibility due to a lack of ability to pay.
- There are an estimated .053 doctors per 1,000 population and 0.274 nurses and midwives per 1,000 population.
- Infant mortality rate (per 1,000 live birth): 47.4
- Under-5 mortality rate (per 1,000 live births): 69.8
*Estimates Developed by the UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UNICEF, WHO, World Bank, UN DESA Population Division)
United Surgeons for Children has been present in Togo since 2002. While we have been fortunate to see advancements in the health and well-being of Togolese children, it is also true that the health sector in the country is chronically underfunded and in need of help. This is particularly true as the country undergoes a transition in which non-communicable diseases are an increasing threat, such as those conditions treatable through surgery.
In 2012, our focus on pediatric health care took a significant step as we formalized a partnership with the Sylvanus Olympio Teaching Hospital in Lomé, focused on training and enhancing local technical expertise. Beyond direct health interventions, we expand our Togolese programming with education missions. Through these programs, we raise young people’s awareness about health and hygiene to build positive behaviors for the future. We also support families to keep students in school, augmenting the benefits that students receive by providing nutritious meals that help to lay a healthy foundation for future success.
In 2018 alone:
- We performed more than 220 surgeries on children, 9 of which were performed at the Sylvanus Olympio Teaching Hospital in Lomé to address brachial plexus palsy.
- Our teams executed nearly 450 consultations, in Lomé and remote provinces during service missions.
- USFC covered the cost of education for more than 800 children from Togo.
- Through our “Canteen for All” program, USFC provided nutritious meals for nearly 1,100 primary school children.
- USFC offered heath and hygiene courses for nearly 5,000 children in Togo Four schools were also equipped upgraded WASH stations.
Building Local Expertise at the Sylvanus Olympio Teaching Hospital
Our formal partnership with the Sylvanus Olympio Teaching Hospital is critical to elevating Togolese pediatric general surgery capacities. Most recently, at the request of local medical professionals, we carried out a capacity building project to specifically address brachial plexus palsy, more commonly known as Erb’s Palsy. This condition arises when an infant’s neck is stretched to one side during a difficult delivery, and it requires intervention to restore the complex network of nerves in that area, which control the chest, shoulder, arms and hands. Without treatment, a child can suffer from loss of muscle function or even paralysis.
Patient recruitment and medical record collection were carried out by the student doctors enrolled in the Lomé Postgraduate Specialization Diploma in Pediatric Surgery. In total, 42 children received consultation and 9 received surgery that addressed partial paralysis, with the local teams now equipped to continue this work independently.
Surgical Fairs to Reach Remote Areas
Most medical expertise in Togo is centered in Lomé, but many families live far from the capital city. For that reason, United Surgeons for Children frequently organizes surgical fairs in distant provinces, allowing us to carry out assessments on vulnerable children who may not otherwise see a medical professional. Families who would lack the means to bring their children for surgery in Lomé then have no need to worry – as our teams ensure medical transport for necessary procedures to be carried out in the capital facilities. Since starting these missions, nearly 1,000 children have received surgeries they needed to survive and thrive, including treatment for hydrocele, ectopia, hernia, severe burns caused by esophageal stenosis, and bone diseases.
Supporting Children’s Comprehensive Education in Lomé
United Surgeons for Children works across various partner education institutions in Lomé, ensuring that children who may otherwise be kept out of school have the support they and their families need to continue their education. This includes providing for critical basic needs, like quality school supplies, hygiene kits, school fees, meals and comprehensive medical treatment. Because of our work in a single year, more than 800 children were kept in school. In addition, this program focuses on reducing drop-out rates by providing educational alternatives to young people. Currently, ten young people are pursuing non-traditional apprenticeship projects to advance their education, with an additional four having completed the program to receive recognized professional qualifications and certifications.
“Canteen for All” to Create Healthy Habits and Futures
United Surgeons for Children’s “Canteen for All” program focuses in Adjallé primary school, through which we are able to support more than 1,100 children each year with nutritious, balanced meals. We recruit chefs in this program who are specially trained in hygiene and health standards within a school environment, ensuring that we meet that special nutrition needs of children. Because students are receiving this added benefit from attending school, we have also noted the program’s successful contributions to reducing absenteeism and drop-outs. With full bellies and more consistency in class attendance, students are also achieving higher rates of academic success.
“Nyagbé” Workshops and Specialized Learning
Supporting our other programs are additional workshops that fall under our Nyagbé program. These workshops vary from trainings in written and verbal expression to health and hygiene awareness. In particular, the former, which also includes theater clubs, help to build students’ self-confidence, achieving valuable psychosocial benefits. Simultaneously, young people are achieving healthy habits through improved hygiene that lessens their risk for future health problems.