The development of a robust Pediatric Oncology unit has been underway at MRRH, the Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital, for years. The Pediatric Oncology partnership initially sought not only to build clinical capacity, but also to focus on patient education for the pediatric oncology population and community in southwestern Uganda. We faced several challenges as we worked to help build a sustainable and effective Pediatric Oncology unit. Initially, no nurses or pediatricians at MRRH had formal pediatric oncology training because no Nursing Oncology or Pediatric Oncology training was yet available in the country. Other obstacles proved to be limited access to essential resources such as chemotherapy, and clinical services such as anesthesiology and radiology. In a setting of this sort with insufficient access to certain vital resources, it becomes easy to forget about the psycho-social component and support for patients undergoing treatment, especially for the most vulnerable and youngest of our patient population.
In an effort to provide better and more formalized psycho-social care and support, Pediatric Oncology nurses initiated a Music and Art Therapy Program for the clinic’s pediatric oncology patients in 2015. Patient education also became a large focus, and staff developed interactive and innovative material such as voice records, video material and booklets designed to educate children and their families on the side effects of chemotherapy. The emphasis on patient education allowed families to anticipate and understand the potential side effects that their child could experience.
Staff was trained by partnering institutions as Pediatric Oncology continued to expand within MRRH, and within two years it became apparent that the volume of Pediatric Oncology services being provided at MRRH required a permanent and separate space. The construction of a separate Pediatric Oncology unit was undertaken just this past year. Progress was steady, and the structure was completed in March. Today, the Pediatric Oncology Ward at the Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital is open. Many of the staff positions have been filled and patients are seen daily.