My Kenyan Experience: Supporting African nurses to better care for stomas and wounds

With the support of The Australian Association of Stomal Therapy Nurses (AASTN) and the World Council of Enterostomal Therapists (WCET), a project to teach a Stomal/Wound and Continence course in Africa has seen ten Australian Stomal Therapy Nurses volunteering to teach 18 Kenyan and two Tanzanian Nurses in Nairobi.

Independence Australia also donated Wound Care products to help the nurses save and change lives.

The aim of the course was to ensure participants would become autonomous and develop their own education and training organisation specific to their local needs and challenges.

RDNS Stomal Therapy Consultant, Trish Griffin, volunteered to travel to Nairobi for two four-week teaching blocks. Here’s her story:

Our adventure was both physically and emotionally challenging, particularly because I’d never imagined what life is like in a third-world country. At times, the cultural shock was overwhelming – in both positive and negative ways. While sometimes we played tourist seeing spectacular scenery, we also experienced the deprivation of visiting and working next to one the largest urban slums in the world.

However, despite the barbed wire and the automatic weapons that ensured our safety at all times, the welcome we received was appreciative and so loving.

The differences between the Nairobi private and public hospitals were profound. Treatment for those who can afford to pay is a world away from the public hospitals, where many don’t survive the diseases and trauma we in Australia take for granted.

Everything in the Kenyan health system seemed to be magnified, from severe colorectal cancers and endless stomas to massive wounds from gunshot and car accident injuries. The size and quantity of pressure injuries was a huge issue – we found our students had no real knowledge of pressure prevention and immediately worked to address this gap in their training.

One image has left me with an everlasting sadness. I witnessed children with the most horrific burns have their dressings changed with only paracetamol used as an analgesic. By contrast, my most rewarding experience was when a group of us decorated the blank walls of the children’s ward with stickers and fun things for the kids to look at during their long confinements. We made them laugh rather than cry and that was a great gift to us.

After a 12 gruelling weeks of theoretical and practical work, our 20 African nurses all completed the course with flying colours. They are the now the first Stoma/ Wound and Continence Nurses (SWCN) to be qualified and now have formed their own organisation, equivalent to the AASTN.

Our accomplishments over the last year have given us increased determination to return and not be intimidated by Nairobi’s constant reality of terrorism and Ebola. Two more groups of 20 nurses will be trained over the next two years, under the leadership of Elizabeth English, STN at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, who inspired, initiated and coordinated the course. Thanks must go to the Aga Khan University hospital in which the course was held – without its generosity and state-of-the-art equipment, our success would never have been possible.

As I consider returning to Nairobi again, it is the memory of the children laughing and the patients’ faces lighting up as the Muzunga (white nurse) returns to help them that is still uppermost in my mind.

As a social enterprise, Independence Australia helps support people with a disability or personal need. We also like to support other worthwhile causes and ventures that improve lives locally, and around the world.