Lopiding hospital: adapting to changing needs in southern Sudan
Lopiding hospital in northern Kenya was the ICRC's biggest field hospital, performing more than 60,000 operations in its 19-year history. At the end of June 2006, management was handed over to the Kenyan authorities. The ICRC's Andrea Koenig visited the hospital and sent this report.
At the height of the conflict in southern Sudan, this hospital close to the border with Sudan was help and hope for war-wounded civilians and soldiers. When the Sudanese civil war re-ignited in 1983, many of the war wounded were evacuated to medical facilities in neighbouring Kenya. By September 1986 their number had dramatically increased, and the Kenyan government asked the ICRC to set up a field hospital.
The ICRC accepted the challenge and began to build a facility near the Kenyan border village of Lokichokio. In June 1987, the ICRC started to treat the first war victims arriving from southern Sudan.
Initially, the hospital had a 40-bed capacity, one operating theatre, an x-ray department, and a sterilisation unit. The kitchen served three meals a day – something patients'families usually had to take care of – and many hands worked in the hospital laundry.
"When I first started my job here, I never thought that I would stay so many years…Once, we received a young Sudanese man, aged 22, severely injured by a bomb; the doctors had to amputate both legs. We did not think he would survive – but he did and spent a few weeks here until he could walk with his prostheses. It was like a miracle…"
Serah Muthoni Gitigi, supervisor, medical ward, Lopiding hospital, 1993-2006
More than 37,000 patients
As the conflict escalated, the hospital expanded to meet rising demand. By the end of 2005, a total of 37,558 patients had been treated at Lopiding hospital and over 60,000 surgical operations had been performed. Almost 200 Sudanese and Kenyan staff and a dozen expatriate medical staff, mainly from national Red Cross societies, have worked there over the past 19 years. Today, the hospital has a capacity of 500 beds. It has two operating theatres, an intensive care unit, a post-operative area, ten wards, a physiotherapy unit, a laboratory, and a hospital pharmacy. Read more fact & figures about the hospital.
" It was the best time in my entire professional life " , says Dr. Georg Kundert, a Swiss surgeon who served at Lopiding as a senior surgeon between 1997 and 1998.
" Apart from the personal experience, it was a professional challenge to perform to my best with very simple means. It demanded creativity and it required excellent team work. "
Walking through an empty operating theatre, he remembers the days when they were operating at four tables at the same time, trying to save the lives of the war wounded from southern Sudan.
With the signature of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the government of Sudan and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement on 9 January 2005 and the cessation of hostilities, the demand for the ICRC's services at Lopiding hospital gradually decreased. In April 2006 the beds " under roof " , as the staff used to call the admission ward, were empty. By the end of May, all patients had been discharged.
The ICRC stopped evacuating patients to Lopiding from southern Sudan on 28 February 2006. The last patient who benefited from medical evacuation to Lopiding was Nyamer Gang, a 60-year-old woman shot in the upper leg.
Where the bullet came from, she does not know. There were no hostilities going on – she was simply standing in front of her hut when the bullet struck her.
" I was lucky to be admitted to Lopiding, " she says.
After two operations Nyamer Gang recovered and has been flown home to southern Sudan by the ICRC.
Continuing help in Sudan
As a result of the peace agreement, the ICRC decided to withdraw from Lopiding hospital and hand it over to the Kenyan health ministry. Lopiding will continue as a sub-district hospital serving the population of the Turkana community.
The premises and the infrastructure will now be open to local residents who before had limited access to the facilities, due to the number of war wounded from southern Sudan. The ICRC had opened a medical ward in 1999, run by the Kenyan authorities, to treat emergencies among local people.
The ICRC plans to continue helping the people of southern Sudan for some time to come.
In April 2006, it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the authorities of southern Sudan to build and run a new orthopaedic reference centre in the town of Juba. It will open its doors in mid-2007 and will have a capacity similar to the orthopaedic centre in Khartoum, producing 100 devices a month.
The ICRC will also support the training of technicians from southern Sudan in facilities abroad, including two physiotherapists who will be essential for managing patient rehabilitation.
Until the new centre opens its doors, the ICRC will reinforce the existing orthopaedic facilities in Juba, providing material assistance and five experienced technicians.Read an interview with the ICRC's delegate-general for Africa Feature story: In the skies over Sudan Lopiding: Facts & figures