In Sierra Leone, making soap at home can prove fatal for small children. Each year, hundreds of children drink caustic soda, mistaking it for water, sugar or salt, causing very severe burns to the oesophagus and the entire digestive system.
One of our tasks, in the Surgical Centre in Goderich, is to treat their burns and take care of them, from the operation to the course of paediatric treatment necessary to start eating normally again.
To understand the problem better, here are two figures. Only last year there were more than 70 cases of burns from accidental swallowing of caustic soda. In 2019, the number of cases has practically doubled; in the first nine months of this year, 10 cases have been reported, on average, every month.
Thanks both to the referral service to our hospital facilitated by our network of ambulances that has been available throughout the country for several months, and the radio campaign (which our staff actively participated in) aimed at reducing the risk of soda ingestion, we have certainly received more patients than we used to. Awareness about the serious consequences of these types of accidents is gradually increasing, as well as many families’ realisation that they can depend on our facilities and, above all, on our care.
Mary Rose, part of the local staff at the Centre, works for us as a nurse and is a vital part of the Soda Programme. A few days ago, she told us about Senesie, an eight-year-old girl who suffered an ordeal that deeply saddened us. The little girl had drunk a glass of water that her stepmother had added caustic soda in an attempt to harm her. Fortunately little Senesie is a true fighter and has managed to recover; after undergoing several operations, her condition improved and now she is much better.
Continuing to care for patients burnt by caustic soda remains one of our top priorities in the country. No other hospital is able to offer this service, which is, very importantly, free. Let’s not forget Senesie and her story. The last thing we want is to see her again in the hospital; she belongs amongst other children, living the life that every child like her deserves.