It’s a sad fact that millions of children in the developing world die from diseases that are easily preventable. But a team at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia has been working thousands of miles from Philadelphia in an effort to change that.

Medical personnel in low- and middle-income countries frequently lack the basic skills and medical knowledge to recognize and stabilize diseases that would be easily treated in the United States. Globally, 6.6 million children under age 5 will die each year — 4 million of them from pneumonia or diarrhea alone.

CHOP’s Global Pediatric Critical Care Program is on a mission to change those statistics by using an innovative education program called Saving Children’s Lives.

Partnering to save children's lives

Partnering with the Ministry of Health in Botswana, the University of Botswana and the Basic Training American Heart Association, CHOP’s team is addressing the problem that many healthcare providers don’t know how to identify a child in respiratory distress or shock.

“It’s a big thing that we’ve recognized this gap in their knowledge,” says Peter Meaney, MD, MPH, director of the program. By teaching basic skills to healthcare workers — and teaching those workers how to instruct and teach more workers — CHOP’s program has created an ever-expanding circle of essential lifesaving skills.

“Without training, healthcare workers often give children the wrong type of antibiotic or fluid, or the wrong amount, and the illness gets worse,” explains Meaney. “So a patient who came in for a sick visit becomes severely ill.”

By the time the child’s illness is finally recognized, he says, often it has progressed too far and the child dies needlessly. And unfortunately, the problem is exacerbated by long wait times, as a single doctor can serve an entire population spanning dozens of clinics. Getting the diagnosis right the first time is essential.

Training local educators

With CHOP’s Saving Children’s Lives program, supported by Ronald McDonald House Charities, the American Heart Association and B-Line Medical Charitable Fund, local healthcare workers are being trained to assess and initiate stabilizing treatment to children younger than 5 years old.

This new approach by CHOP — not simply to provide short-term help from Western clinicians, but rather to train local educators — strengthens the health system in a way that will continue long after the CHOP doctors and nurses have returned to Philadelphia.

Simple diseases no longer have to be catastrophic.

Expanding CHOP's global reach

This initiative is just one example of numerous programs supported by CHOP’s Global Health Center, designed to extend CHOP’s lifesaving expertise to children around the world.

After a successful pilot program at its flagship hospital in May 2013, the Ministry of Health requested that CHOP focus training in Botswana’s Kweneng District.

“Through this partnership, we have trained 187 people and have a local instructor core of 10. But even more exciting,” says Meaney, “is the passion in the way the Botswana instructors and providers participate in and improve on the training.”

This program has had an immediate and dramatic impact on the lives of the people in the Kweneng District and has the potential to be used throughout Botswana and the world.

“Our duty is to empower and inspire,” says Meaney. “This program’s underpinning is about increasing human capacity through knowledge. We are making a huge difference with effective training.”
 

By Sarah Jordan